Connexion is shutting down, but Panasonic's avionics division may step in: This is not a sale of assets, but rather Panasonic Avionics Corporation may use Connexion by Boeing's general approach in a way that would allow airlines that have already deployed Connexion to make a simple and relatively quick transition. In an interview with Shephard Inflight Online, David Bruner, the strategic head for the 2,500-strong Washington state-based division of Panasonic North America, lays out the plans. Airlines will receive varying amounts of cancellation fees from Boeing as a result of Connexion's service being pulled, which may be used by airlines to fund the transition.
Panasonic wants commitments within 60 days from airlines for 500 planes to be equipped; they say they have 150 committed now. Lufthansa has over 60 planes with Connexion and SAS with about 20; I suspect both airlines have signed on. They'll still use Ku band leased transponders, but with much more efficient equipment that will allow 12 Mbps/3 Mbps versus Boeing's 5 Mbps/1 Mbps rate.
The antenna will be more "compact"--read: not weighing 800 pounds--using a new system from L-3 Datron Advanced Technologies, as well as a modem from their Linkabit division. Weight was a considerable portion of airlines' concern over Connexion. It costs thousands of dollars per long-haul flight just to move Connexion's equipment around, regardless of passenger count or passenger usage. The system seems to be their Exconnect platform. It's not clear whether already-deployed Connexion airlines would have to pull their gear or whether they could use the new system with existing equipment, and then upgrade during scheduled maintenance periods in the future.
Bruner didn't mention a specific price in this interview, but the target is a wholesale rate comparable to terrestrial access, which means about $10 to $15 a day, like you pay in some hotels. This lets airlines pass it on with little markup, Bruner says. Airlines might also eat $10 per user per flight for business and first class--that's a little easier to swallow than $27, or whatever Connexion wholesaled service to airlines at (if they wholesaled in this fashion).
Panasonic said that they set the 60-day deadline in order to not leave existing Connexion airlines hanging. Panasonic is the equipment integrator and operator for Qantas's in-flight mobile calling test scheduled for next year on a single aircraft over Australia.
Interestingly, Aeromobile, poised to launch Inmarsat-based service in Asia possibly late this year, could also buy service from Panasonic. Panasonic could avoid being a competitor because they're seen as an avionics integrator, and could make their money from providing the pipe, not the service. [link via iag]