Ensuring wireless connectivity at 35,000 feet

An airline needed to find and fix outages with their most popular in-cabin Wi-Fi service

Customer Challenge
A large airline had selected a technology and service provider for wireless Internet service in the passenger cabin. The airline had deployed the new system on most of its fleet and had operated the service for nearly two years. Although the service performance met passenger expectations, the airline continued to receive a significant number of reported outages, slow response times and other inconsistencies. Sometimes the unexplained outages were widespread enough that the airline was forced to issue refunds to passengers. Attempts by the service provider to determine the causes of intermittent performance were only partially successful. The airline asked SeaTec to conduct an independent assessment of the connectivity system and its performance.

The SeaTec Solution
SeaTec convened a team of five senior consultants, each of whom brought deep experience and expertise in airborne networking and air-satellite-ground communications. The SeaTec team conducted kick-off meetings with airline engineering, airline IT, airline marketing and the service provider. Following the kick-off, SeaTec conducted a series of structured interviews with over 30 airline and service provider personnel, including executives, managers and key individual contributors. SeaTec reviewed extensive amounts of design data, test data, in-service metrics and passenger reports. The review included an assessment of the physical layer of the system, including specific satellite coverage footprints, communications waveforms and modulation, antenna patterns, antenna tracking and control, and airborne antenna calibration. Various aspects of the Internet Protocol and traffic shaping software including both ground stations and airborne elements were reviewed. SeaTec reviewed and assessed airline and network system provider supply chain component reliability trends. Finally, SeaTec reviewed equipment installation design and inspected representative on-airplane ship sets, assessing application of best practices.

To check the protocol level performance, SeaTec developed and configured a unique on-board Wi-Fi user emulation capability and a lab simulation, and conducted on-airplane testing – jointly with servicer provider personnel. SeaTec’s investigation identified multiple root causes for the inconsistent passenger connections.

Impact on the Customer’s Business
SeaTec delivered a report of its findings, including a detailed recovery plan. SeaTec first coordinated its report with airline engineering, airline marketing and the service provider to obtain their feedback and avoid them being “blind-sided.” Then, SeaTec presented its findings and recommendations to senior management of the airline and service provider in a joint session. The airline and service provider accepted the recommendations and took responsibility to implement the corrective actions. By applying a rigorous systems engineering approach, deep domain expertise, and the ability to serve in an “honest broker” role, SeaTec helped resolve system problems, saving the airline the cost of additional refunds and mitigating service issues that could impact passenger experience.