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Inflight WiFi: A New Stratosphere of Opportunity

June 20, 2016 Technology No Comments Print Print Email Email

Chengdu Tianfu Software Park, one of the largest tech parks in China, selected Envee Inflight Entertainment Co., Ltd, as an example of the extraordinary start-up companies to excel in China. Envee Inflight Entertainment is based in the Chengdu Tianfu Software Park and provided insight into how they were able to provide inspiration to other start-ups.

“Inflight WiFi is unexplored territory in China, which will see great opportunity as satellite connectivity technology and ground-air connectivity technology are realized, and the inflight WiFi are approved by Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to conduct pilot programs.” According to Wu Xin, General Manager of Envee Inflight Entertainment Co., Ltd., conventional internet is already saturated with leading companies in many industries – monopolies are even beginning to emerge. In contrast, inflight WiFi is still in its early stages of exponential growth and is likely to open up a new chapter in the industry.

While investigating and seeking numerous projects and opportunities between 2007 and 2010, together with one of his college classmates, Wu created a high-tech company focused on the research and development of mobile internet projects in Chengdu Tianfu Software Park: “I met Xi Wenda, who had been studying in the US. With our backgrounds in internet and aviation, we reached a consensus on the direction of inflight entertainment.”

As stated by Wu, such consensus came from some of their own experiences as airplane passengers. “As on-ground internet continues to be updated every day, even every hour, outdated and slow-to-be-updated content, such as games and music, continue to be used in our aircraft. Furthermore, internet access is not available on domestic flights in China.”

“Foreign companies have long had a monopoly on the development of inflight entertainment systems and their standards. However, we discovered inadequacies in their localization of R&D of aviation entertainment software. As a result, the passengers are forced to passively accept onboard entertainment and are unable to interact with it. They are simply unable to meet passengers’ needs.” Wu and his team believe that inflight WiFi will definitely become a trend: “Certain passenger groups may have special requirements, such as social interaction, information and entertainment in addition to WiFi access. We originally intended to meet the requirements of even more passengers by tapping into the inflight entertainment segment.”

Wu then established Envee Software (Chengdu) Co., Ltd. (predecessor of Envee Inflight Entertainment Co., Ltd.) with his partner at Chengdu Tianfu Software Park: “At the time, the global inflight entertainment system market was monopolized by two high-tech companies from Canada and India. We wished to break foreign monopoly, develop a nationwide aviation industry and provide passengers with superior aviation entertainment services through continued innovation.”

As they found their way into the arena of inflight WiFi, however, Wu and his team would eventually uncover many challenges: “Most of civil aircraft in China are purchased from Boeing, Airbus and other foreign manufacturers, so our software needed to obtain authorization from specific hardware device manufacturers before being installed on the aircraft.”

According to Wu, after over a year of communication, development and testing, Envee Inflight Entertainment finally fulfilled safety requirements from hardware device manufacturers of inflight entertainment systems – Panasonic and Thales, and acquired clearance to develop the relevant software. It became China’s first company in the industry to obtain such approval.

“Panasonic and Thales provide entertainment systems for Boeing and Airbus aircrafts, and account for 80 to 90% share of the global market,” said Wu Xian. With software authorization from Panasonic and Thales, Envee Inflight Entertainment seized the opportunity to begin development based on their entertainment systems: “With the proper credentials for this industry, we are now able to increase our coverage as Panasonic and Thales expand to different markets.”

“I firmly believe that the future of inflight WiFi lies in the software revolution,” said Wu. Currently, select hardware device manufacturers in the industry monopolize many resources, but with the best possible software, change is possible: “What we saw on the aircraft were options tailored for foreigners and they were usually very complicated. Some of them did not conform to the tastes of Chinese passengers. We hope to cater to Chinese audiences and focus on the user experience, with games like “Fight the Landlord,” mahjong, gobang, and reversi. We also made interactive 3D editions of the “Palace Museum,” “Temple of Heaven” and other attractions to enable passengers to access advance information on the attractions they will be visiting. All of these are ways in which we provide entertainment content.”

Wu believes that opportunities and challenges coexist in inflight WiFi. Those who embrace challenges and take advantage of opportunities will survive: “The challenge is that nobody has ever done this in China – we cannot simply introduce a foreign model into China. It’s important for us to stand on solid ground and move step-by-step. Only then can we truly change and even become leaders in the industry. Inflight WiFi is likely to become a revolution in the services provided by China’s civil aviation industry, and this is our opportunity. It’s an imaginative and fascinating market waiting to be exploited.”

There are now 360 million passengers transported by China’s civil aviation industry each year. 2.5 hours of flying per capita amounts to 900 million flying hours per year. Moreover, by Airbus’s estimation, China will become the world’s biggest aviation market over the next decade. Overall, China has become the world’s biggest internet market, surpassing the US. Its netizens and business opportunities are unmatched by any other country. The combination of these two factors makes the inflight WiFi business infinitely profitable.

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