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IFE In A Box?

A highly affordable alternative to installed IFEC is getting the attention of airlines.

Airlines around the world are going for connectivity, right? Well, not entirely. Regional aircraft on short routes may not need connectivity, ultra-low-cost carriers may not want to spend the money, and even major, long-haul carriers may be reluctant to install expensive inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) in aircraft that will be retired soon.

So firms like Bluebox, which will soon install its Wow hardware on 21 of Vistara’s Airbus A320-family aircraft, offers an inexpensive alternative to installed IFEC systems. Taking advantage of today’s bring-your-own-device passengers, Bluebox offers a simple lunch-box sized unit with 1.6 Terabytes of film, TV, audio, games and other digital content. Put the unit in an overhead bin, and it can wirelessly feed passenger devices for up to 15 hours before its rechargeable battery needs to be swapped out.

Because it’s not attached to aircraft, installation of Wow is simple and approvals are easy. It takes about two units to entertain narrowbody passengers, four for a widebody audience.

Global Eagle Entertainment has launched its own IFE in a box. Like Wow, Airconnect Go requires no installation, fits into overhead bins and enables passengers to stream content to personal electronic devices by logging on to the airline portal. Go has 15 hours of battery life while streaming to over 50 users.

In the second quarter of 2018, Afrijet became the launch customer of Phitek’s Cabinstream, another simple IFE box that provides passengers with wireless access to newspapers, music, films, TV series and travel guides. Cabinstream is now an option on all new ATRs.

Viasat offers an in-cabin wireless service. Unlike Wow, the solution runs on aircraft power, so costs a bit more up front than battery-powered boxes, but cuts operating costs for batteries. And Lufthansa Systems has just introduced a more powerful version of its BoardConnect Portable device that enables high-quality streaming for up to 100 passengers.

It’s not connectivity, and it doesn’t have seatback screens. But IFE in a box is simple, inexpensive and highly flexible. It could be just the right choice for a lot of airlines wary of full IFEC costs.

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