Faster Wi-Fi on flights leads to battle in the sky

NEW YORK: Wi-Fi in the sky is taking off, promising much better connections for travelers and a bonanza for the companies that sell the systems.

With satellite-based Wi-Fi, Internet speeds on jetliners are getting lightning fast. And airlines are finding that travelers expect connections in the air to rival those on the ground – and at lower cost.

But the fast evolution of rival systems and standards, such as Ku band and Ka band, pose a big question for airlines: which one to choose?

Equipping fleets can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and airlines don’t want to see their investment quickly become outdated due to newer technology. That’s made some cautious about signing up.

“We don’t want to end up with a Betamax,” said Peter Ingram, chieffinancial officer of Hawaiian Airlines, referring to the Sony video format that eventually lost out to the VHS standard, leaving many consumers with obsolete systems.

Hawaiian is still considering which system to use.

The drive for in-flight connectivity also has intensified after the disappearance on March 8 of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with 239 people aboard. Search teams are scouring parts of the Indian Ocean for the missing aircraft, and it might have been better tracked if a satellite system capable of streaming cockpit data had been on board.

Global market

The US market for airborne Internet got a big boost last November after the US Federal Aviation Administration allowed passengers to use smartphones, tablets and e-readers throughout a flight, ending a long-standing ban on their use during takeoff and landing.

While the change hasn’t been adopted worldwide, the FAA’s move is expected to lead to greater use of devices, and bandwidth, on planes.

About 40 percent of US jetliners already have some Wi-Fi, but the race is on to wire the rest of a growing global fleet, and to make the existing connections better.

The number of commercial planes worldwide with Wi-Fi, cell service or both is expected to more than triple over the next 10 years, to 14,000 from about 4,000 currently, with much of that growth in Asia, according to research firm IHS.

Even with a tripling, only half of the worldwide fleet will be wired in 2022, suggesting demand for new systems will last longer.

Much of the US fleet will need upgrades to access satellites, since many planes currently are equipped for ground-based transmission, which is typically slower than satellite.

“Passengers of the future want to be connected when they want,” Chris Emerson, senior vice president of marketing at Airbus, told Reuters during the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.

“Everyone wants Internet the way they have it on the ground, so it has to be cheap or free.”

Greater speed

Satellite technology will speed up onboard connections sevenfold, to about 70 megabits per second next year, fast enough to download a two-hour high-definition movie in about four minutes. Of course, that bandwidth will be shared among all of the users on the flight, which could number 200 or more.

Satellites also will allow service to reach developing markets in Asia and Latin America, and to offer expanded service in the U.S. and European markets.

Investors expect the global expansion and faster speeds will fuel greater use of services, with revenue split between the providers and the airlines.

It also will drive hardware sales, as airlines outfit aircraft with antennas, radios and routers. Honeywell, for example, makes fuselage-top antennas that link to the Global Xpress network provided by Inmarsat PLC, which operates on the Ka band.

In demonstrating the GX system at the Hamburg show, Honeywell said the system can deliver up to 50 megabits per second consistently around most of the globe, and it plans to test it on its own plane this summer, while Air China is expected to start trials with it in late 2014 or early 2015.

“GX is going to be a real game changer for airlines and their passengers from 2015 when the service comes online,” John Broughton, director of product marketing for GX at Honeywell, said in an interview.

A rival standard, Ku band, operates in a lower frequency band. While it may be able to achieve higher bandwidth than Ka band in certain areas, its overall connectivity is not as consistent, especially on long-haul flights over oceans, experts said.

Gogo used the Hamburg show to announce its 2Ku system, that will use a special dual antenna made by ThinKom Solutions Inc to raise the capacity of the Ku band system to 70 mbps, a leap from its current systems that operated at 3 to 10 mbps. Gogo also offers Ka band satellite connectivity and built its business on ground-based cell-tower technology in the United States.

“Betamax” risk

The improving systems mean customers will demand better connections. Some frequent fliers with status on several airlines say they choose flights based on Wi-Fi availability.

“It becomes an ante at the table,” said Jonathan Schildkraut, an analyst at Evercore Partners, which co-managed Gogo’s IPO last June.

But the variety of systems poses tough decisions for airlines, which risk choosing a technology that could become outdated.

Ingram, the CFO of Hawaiian Airlines, said the choice and cost of a system is especially important for his fleet since it mostly carries people on vacation – people who don’t want to be tethered to the office.

“The technology in the Wi-Fi space for trans-Pacific flying is still evolving,” he said, “so we haven’t made any final decisions yet.”

German airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG knows the perils. It originally worked with Connexion, a Boeing unit developing in-flight Wi-Fi that operated a decade ago but failed to attract enough customers.

“We were a little bit unfortunate,” CEO Christoph Franz said in an interview. “We had spent millions to equip our aircraft.”

Lufthansa has since outfitted more than 90 percent of its long-haul planes with satellite connectivity.

But it is taking a step-by-step approach for other planes, outfitting about 30 Airbus A321 aircraft with a system that can stream content from an onboard server to handheld devices, but doesn’t connect to the internet.

“We need a decent provider for that, but we didn’t want our customers to wait,” Franz said. He expects a “triple-digit-million” euro investment to outfit the full fleet.

“We are ready to do this,” he said. “But we have to look at the bill. We will see which system at the end of the day turns out to be the most affordable and the fastest.”

 

Sri Lanka offers $1 mln bonus to win T20

COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan team will be handed a million dollar bonus if they can shake off their reputation as chokers in the final of the World Twenty20 this weekend, the country’s cricket board announced Friday.

The day after the players won a rain-affected semi-final against the West Indies, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) said it would treble the money it had previously promised if they return home from Bangladesh with the trophy.

“The Executive Committee of SLC which met at an emergency meeting this morning decided to offer $ 1.5 million (including the original fee of $500,000) to the national team players in the event that they win the final,” the board said in a statement.

Sri Lanka — who will meet in Sunday’s final in Dhaka — were the beaten finalists last time round when they lost to the West Indies even though they were the tournament hosts.

They have also been beaten in the final of the last two 50 over World Cups, meaning they have not won a major trophy since their victory in the 1996 World Cup under skipper Arjuna Ranatunga.

 

Planes race to fresh MH370 search zone after ‘credible new lead’

PERTH: A multinational fleet of planes and ships raced Friday to a fresh search zone after a “credible new lead” that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was flying faster than first thought before it plunged into the remote Indian Ocean.

Ten aircraft from six countries – Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States – diverted to an area 1,100 kilometres (685 miles) northeast of where they have been looking for a week, far off western Australia.

Five Chinese ships and an Australian naval vessel were also steaming to the new zone of interest after the weather cleared following the suspension of the air search Thursday due to thunderstorms and high winds, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.

“The new information is based on continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost (with the missing plane),” AMSA said.

“It indicated that the aircraft was travelling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel usage and reducing the possible distance the aircraft travelled south into the Indian Ocean.” The new area is closer to land, meaning planes can spend more time searching before having to return to refuel, and the weather is expected to be better there.

The new search area “has moved out of the Roaring Forties (strong westerly winds), which creates very adverse weather frequently”, AMSA chief John Young told reporters in Canberra.

Satellite sightings of unidentified debris in recent days have raised hopes of finding wreckage from the Boeing 777, which vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board after veering sharply off course during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and flying thousands of miles southwards.

Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately redirected by someone on board, but nothing else is known.

Thailand Thursday reported a sighting of 300 floating objects. Japan also announced a satellite analysis indicated around 10 square floating objects, although it was not clear if these were in the zones the new search would focus on.

Japan’s Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Centre’s study showed the objects it sighted on Wednesday were up to eight metres in length and four metres wide.

Jiji Press cited an official at the office as saying they were “highly likely” to be from the plane.

The Thai and Japanese sightings came after satellite data from Australia, China and France had also shown floating objects possibly related to flight MH370. But nothing has so far been retrieved despite the huge multinational search.

“This is a credible new lead and will be thoroughly investigated today,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said of the revised search area.

The updated advice was provided by an international investigation team in Malaysia, with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau determining “that this is the most credible lead to where debris may be located”.

The new search area measures about 319,000 square kilometres (127,600 sq miles) and is around 1,850 kilometres west of Perth. Australia is re-positioning its satellites to focus on it.

 

Black box deadline

 


 

As the search intensifies, the United States said it was sending a second P-8 Poseidon – an advanced surveillance plane – to Perth.

 

Thursday’s suspension of the air search caused mounting concern as the clock ticks on the tracking signal emitted by the plane’s “black box” of flight data.

 

It will expire after roughly 30 days, around April 8.

 

The US Pacific Fleet has moved a Towed Pinger Locator hydrophone and Bluefin-21 Side-scan sonar to Perth, to try to locate the box as soon as an approximate crash site is established.

 

“It’s critical to continue searching for debris so we can reverse-forecast the wind, current and sea state since March 8th to recreate the position where MH370 possibly went into the water.” We’ve got to get this initial position right prior to deploying the Towed Pinger Locator since the MH370′s black box has a limited battery life and we can’t afford to lose time searching in the wrong area,” said Commander Tom Moneymaker, US 7th Fleet oceanographer.

 

Seeking closure, anguished families of those aboard are desperately awaiting solid evidence that might unlock one of aviation’s greatest riddles.

 

Until then, several of them refuse to accept the Malaysian government’s announcement – based on a complex British analysis of satellite data – that the plane was lost at sea.

 

Two-thirds of the passengers were from China and relatives there have accused the Malaysian government and airline of a cover-up and of botching their response.

 

In a letter to Beijing’s special envoy in Kuala Lumpur, they denounced Malaysia’s handling of the search and asked the Chinese government to set up its own “investigation office”.

 

A committee set up by relatives has also been in contact with US lawyers about a possible lawsuit against Malaysia Airlines.

 

“We question Malaysia’s motivations in misleading and delaying so as to miss the best moment to find MH370,” the relatives wrote in the letter to special envoy Zhang Yesui Thursday, blasting Kuala Lumpur’s behaviour as “irresponsible” and “inhumane”.

 

“We earnestly request that China establish an investigation office into MH370.”

Anusha Rehman misses YouTube hearing again

LAHORE:  Federal minister for Information Technology Anusha Rehman, again failed to appear before the court and submit a written statement on the government’s position and intention with regard to lifting the ban on YouTube.

The court wishes to hear the government’s official stance on YouTube among other internet freedoms in the country before issuing a verdict in the Bytes for all vs. The Federation on Pakistan case that is more commonly referred to as the YouTube case.

The broad natured petition filed by Bytes for All seeks the courts protection on several digital rights to which lifting the ban on YouTube is only one part.

The court has now ordered to meet again on Thursday, 13th March for the 19th hearing

Saudi Arabia lists Muslim Brotherhood among ‘terror’ groups

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Friday listed the Muslim Brotherhood and two Syrian groups as terrorist organisations and ordered citizens fighting abroad to return within 15 days or face imprisonment.

The latest move represents a major escalation against the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and indicates rising concern in Riyadh over the possible return of battle-hardened Saudis extremists from Syria.

In addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi listed Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a rogue group fighting in both Syria and Iraq, as terrorist organisations.

It also listed as terrorist groups the Shiite Huthi rebels fighting in northern Yemen and a little-known internal Shia group called Hezbollah in the Hijaz.

Saudi and other conservative Gulf monarchies have long been hostile towards the Muslim Brotherhood, fearing that its brand of grass-roots activism and political Islam could undermine their authority.

Riyadh is a staunch supporter of the Sunni-led rebels battling to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but has long feared blowback from radical groups, particularly after a spate of attacks by a local Al-Qaeda franchise from 2003 to 2006.

King Abdullah last month decreed jail terms of up to 20 years for belonging to “terrorist groups” and fighting abroad.

Similar sentences will be passed on those belonging to “extremist religious and ideological groups, or those classified as terrorist organisations, domestically, regionally and internationally,” state news agency SPA said at the time.

Supporting such groups, adopting their ideology or promoting them “through speech or writing” would also incur prison terms, the decree added.

Rights group Amnesty International sharply criticised last month’s legislation, saying it could be used to suppress peaceful political dissent because the law used an “overly vague definition of terrorism”.

“The Saudi Arabian authorities are seeking legal cover to entrench their ability to crack down on peaceful dissent and silence human rights defenders,”Amnesty’s Said Boumedouha said at the time.

Saudi Arabia set up specialised terrorism courts in 2011 to try dozens of nationals and foreigners accused of belonging to Al-Qaeda or being involved in a wave of bloody attacks that swept the country from 2003.

Pakistan formulating cyber security strategy

ISLAMABAD: The Senate was informed on Friday that a cyber security strategy was being devised to counter cyber attacks or infiltration from other countries.

Minister of State for Interior Balighur Rehman told the upper house of parliament during question hour that the government has already approved e-mail and internet policy which envisages security guidelines and a multi-stage information security audit of government institutions and ministries.

He said the Ministry of Information Technology had also finalised“Prevention and Electronic Crime Bill” which would soon be presented in the parliament for approval.

Rehman said Nadra had a sensitive database of 100 million people and had deployed a state-of the art system to prevent breaches from internal and external cyber intruders.

Replying to a question, he said a mobile verification system was recently introduced in the federal capital to recover the stolen cars.

The Minister said under this system, the police personnel deployed at patrolling places can check details of any vehicle through an SMS.

To a question the Minister of state for interior Balighur Rehman said there is no moratorium on death penalty in the country.

He said previous government had delayed the executions but the present government is in the process of negotiations to take a final decision on the matter.

The House today passed a resolution appreciating the women parliamentarians for working collectively for empowerment of women folk in the country.

The resolution moved by Rubina Irfan reiterated resolve to continue efforts for socio economic uplift of women in accordance with constitution.

Senator also condemned the Indian government action against Kashmiri youth celebrating the victory of Pakistan cricket team.

Leader of the House, Raja Zafarul Haq, said the action of the self-proclaimed largest democracy of the world was contrary to democratic norms.

Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan also condemned the registration of treason cases against the Kashmiri youth.

Minister for Law and Justice, Pervaiz Rashid, while replying to a call attention notice moved by Farah Aqilsaid it has been utmost effort of the government to bring legislation for the empowerment of women.

He regretted the excesses of jirga system against women and said the federal government will play its role to bring change in the social behaviours.

Facebook & Whatsapp: War is costly, War is profitable.

M/s Koum and Acton scored a coup yesterday when Facebook announced its attention to acquire their instant messaging startup Whatsapp for $19 billion dollars.

Twitter is overflowing with media outlets, venture capitalist’s, silicon valley and the entire business world offering their perspective on this unprecedented landmark deal. There are many reasons to scrutinize every aspect of the deal including how its per user and per employee acquisition cost compares to the likes of Google’s acquisition of Youtube etc, but its also worth reviewing holistically and what this symbolizes for the shifting landscape.

Did Facebook have a choice? I don’t think so. Despite what their quarterly earnings state, Facebook is becoming increasingly less popular in public opinion for a myriad of reasons. Some of these are the advent of new, more interesting apps, the continual privacy problems and the shift in the average age of the ‘monthly active users’. With the billion dollar acquisition of a profitless and indeed revenue-less Instagram, and now the 19 billion dollar acquisition of Whatsapp, which monetizes by charging it’s 450 million users $1 (one US Dollar a year) it’s clear that Facebook isn’t valuing the profitability of it’s takeover targets, rather it’s buying relevance.

It’s an expensive deal – currently about 9% of Facebook’s capitalization – but it feels fairly necessary. Zuckerberg says that Whatsapp, like Instagram, will continue to operate independently; a decision perhaps borne of necessity, not desire. With Instagram ads being introduced recently, the no-ads policy of Whatsapp, and the persistent intrusiveness of Facebook, there seems to be no logical way to amalgamate the product offerings without experiencing attrition in the user base.

Why $19 billion though?

If Whatsapp currently generates $450 million dollars a year, even at their impressive user acquisition rate, it would be many, many years before Facebook sees a return on their investment. Facebook’s $3 billion acquisition offer for Snapchat was publicly refused as was Google’s $4 billion follow up offer for the same company. These offers are more about territory than financial viability and feasibility. What is interesting is that Google offered to pay Whatsapp handsomely, only for the privilege of being informed if and when it entered into acquisition talks with any other company.

Google is paying for information about its competitors. It isn’t revelatory, it isn’t espionage, but its certainly indicative of a fiercer form of competition; one where your own survival is threatened – war.

Using the same analogy, the profiteers in this scenario are the venture capitalists. Sequoia Capital invested $8 million dollars in Whatsapp a few years ago, and it was the only venture firm to back the company. Following the announcement, they stand to make approximately $3.5 billion dollars on their paltry investment. The number of successful exits via mergers and acquisitions has grown consistently and is a trend that is expected to continue in 2014 with North America dominating the field.

In the past couple of months, Google has tried to acquire Snapchat for $4 billion, offloaded Motorola, bought Nest, and expressed interest in laying down Fiber in dozens of cities. Is there a cohesive vision guiding these plans? Maybe.

Facebook also made a failed bid to buy Snapchat for $3 billion, acquired Whatsapp, launched Paper for iOS, begun testing ads with Instagram, and celebrated its 10-year anniversary.

With multiple acquisitions north of 100 million dollars in the past few months, the previously software-only companies are making a habit of encroaching across industries in the war for user dominance. Apple has been stuck in a process of refinement for the past couple of years, Microsoft, under its new leadership, will likely enter a period of consolidation in the interim. Yahoo is continuing to redefine itself slowly.

2014 is already shaping up to be a primer for a volatile 2015, when acquisitions, disruptions and advances in materials will likely culminate in the large companies adding additional dimensions to themselves. By definition, this makes for an unlikely scenario of unifying product offerings and instead, these companies will likely expand as holding companies, at least for the time being.

Whichever way it unfolds, its a phenomenal time to be a consumer since we, the consumers are now contentiously and publicly