Claude Rousseau, Research Director, NSR
The growth in the market for in-flight connectivity (IFC) is driven in no small part by passengers boarding aircrafts with their own personal electronics devices (PEDs). Whether they are using them for entertainment, work or to update social media, an increasing number of PEDs require connectivity. All of this is leading to an increased usage of satellite-based communication to and from an aircraft.
NSR’s Aeronautical Satcom Markets, 3rd Edition report found that having access to data and Wi-Fi services in the air is no longer seen as a luxury, but as a necessity for many passengers who use their time onboard to stay connected with those on the ground. This in-turn feeds airlines’ installation on wide-body and narrow-body airplanes of satellite antennas that offer increasingly higher bandwidth to serve a demanding set of passengers.
As a result, the NSR forecast for satellite-based commercial aircraft connectivity is set to grow to $3.9 billion by 2024, of which about $2.1 billion will be for in-flight connectivity, reinforced by a clear trend towards higher bandwidth demand being delivered by high-throughput satellites (HTS). NSR has also noted that many service providers in the IFC market understand this trend and all the major players such as Panasonic, GEE, GoGo and SITA OnAir have HTS capacity deals to meet this rising demand from passengers.
And there is still a lot of ‘leg room’ to grow for satellite-based services aboard aircrafts if we consider that of the more than 100,000 aircrafts that could be outfitted with a satcom solution, only about 47,500 in-service satcom units are deployed but mainly to support low data rate applications. Most of these units are in smaller airplanes and used for voice and basic data communications.
In the cockpit, safety communications, updates for weather and maps, and positioning and monitoring of the plane and sensors are top drivers of IFC, in particular for low data rate services. The diversification of satellite solutions is on to adapt services for passengers and crew alike and as much as the rate of growth in the market is staggering (21% CAGR for in-flight connectivity). It is also clear that the industry is not yet past the inflection point for connectivity as take-rates continue to grow. As a result, NSR sees FSS satellite bandwidth forecast to reach 160 TPEs and HTS capacity to grow to 81 Gbps by the end of 2024.
As more satellite flavors are available to link aircraft with the ground for small, data-centric applications such as social media or bandwidth-hungry applications such as video, there is every indication that a surge in capacity demand is about to take place bringing VSAT connectivity to more airplanes.