Much has been written about the merits of airlines adopting a free-of-charge model for their passenger inflight broadband offerings in recent months, with an Inmarsat white paper suggesting such a move could lead to take-up rates of between 30-40%.
The number of airlines offering complimentary Wi-Fi on flights also seems to be on the rise. The latest example comes from Germany, where Deutsche Telekom has just announced that its residential customers will be offered free inflight broadband, powered by Inmarsat’s award-winning GX Aviation solution, on all domestic, short and medium haul flights operated by Lufthansa Group.
The offer was actually introduced towards the end of April 2020 to keep Lufthansa, Eurowings and Austrian Airlines passengers connected in the wake of COVID-19. It has now been extended until the end of 2021.
"According to a Bitkom survey, every other German would like to surf the Internet free-of-charge onboard an airplane," says Hagen Rickmann, Board Member Business Customers at Deutsche Telekom. “We are now responding to this request and expanding our Wi-Fi offering on the plane. From now on, private customers can also surf free of charge on European flights of the Lufthansa Group."
This latest move with Lufthansa Group shines a light on efforts by Inmarsat and its partner Deutsche Telekom to increase inflight connectivity take-up rates for airline customers. According to Asbjorn Christoffersen, Inmarsat Aviation’s Vice President of Retail Revenue Management, there are two fundamental barriers that need to be overcome to unlock the full potential of IFC: ease of access and a lower pricing.
One of the ways that Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom are helping airlines to overcome such barriers is enabling advanced roaming services, allowing subscribers of mobile network operators and Wi-Fi service providers to automatically access the inflight Wi-Fi service. The latest news with Lufthansa Group is a prime example.
“The simplicity of a plug-and play experience is the key reason why 40% of mobile subscribers in Europe actively use cellular roaming services when abroad. We now have the technology to fully emulate that cellular roaming experience on a flight. Merely turn on your smartphone and start using the inflight Wi-Fi services,” explains Christoffersen. “Starting with mobile app based roaming – using the WISPr technology – we’ll expect to rapidly transition to fully automated cellular style roaming using Passpoint technology.”
Christoffersen clarifies that passengers are billed via their regular mobile network subscription and that many roaming partners will in fact choose to bundle the inflight pricing into the subscriber’s regular monthly subscription fee.
As part of the campaign with Lufthansa Group, Deutsche Telekom customers with a Magenta Mobil M tariff or higher can book the ‘Inflight Europa Flat’ Wi-Fi free of charge. For business customers, the flat rate is now also available free of charge from the Business Mobil M rate onwards. The tariff option is simply booked before the journey starts. The offer also applies to business customers of Magyar Telekom, Hrvatski Telekom, Slovak Telekom and T-Mobile Czech Republic, who use the One App instead of Deutsche Telekom’s Connect App.
The offer of free GX Aviation inflight broadband will be communicated via onboard announcements. Passengers can either login onto the connectivity service manually (via the portal of the respective airline) or through Deutsche Telekom’s Connect App. GX Aviation is available as soon as cruising altitude is reached. The app then automatically displays the available Wi-Fi and asks whether a connection should be established.
The move is bound to be well received by passengers and enhance loyalty for the Lufthansa Group. “As airlines look towards recovery from the COVID-19 downturn and how they can draw passengers and gain an edge against competitors, they should not forget inflight Wi-Fi as a market differentiator – and importantly the power of ‘free’,” wrote Inmarsat Aviation Senior Vice President Niels Steenstrup in a recent blog for Aircraft Interiors International.
“In our daily lives, free internet access has for some time been an absolute expectation. More and more passengers are now expecting that same level of connectivity in the sky. This trend is intensified by the growing influence of digitally native consumers like Generation Z, which will become the largest group of passengers within the next decade,” he added.