Neuron’s Head of Aviation Mike Moeller on a New “Secret Sauce” for In-Flight Connectivity

May 16, 2024

In this interview, Mike Moeller, SVP of Aviation at Neuron, shares his journey in the IFC industry, from getting Wi-Fi on the first commercial aircraft to full fleet rollouts. He also discusses the challenges and opportunities for IFC, and why Neuron has found a new “secret sauce” to help airlines get independent, actionable intelligence that they can use to take their IFC to the next level and improve passenger quality of experience (QoE).

Let’s kick things off with some fun facts. We know you don’t play favorites, but do you have any notable airline experiences or highlights that you can share?

Mike Moeller: That is a tough question. I’m a 2M miler with Delta Air Lines. Most of the early part of my career in the aerospace industry was flying Delta. That was before Wi-Fi on planes. But I have to say, JetBlue gave me my first shot in this industry when I joined the LiveTV team, which was owned by JetBlue at the time. I was able to lead the BetaBlue project, which launched in December 2007 as a Wi-Fi trial aircraft. Our partners were BlackBerry and Yahoo. It was a key milestone in my career. We had more than 100 users on the maiden flight, which only had a 20 Kbps link. 

Mike Moeller and the LiveTV team go "Back to the Future" at an industry event 2012

You’ve got an impressive ~35 years of experience working across satcoms, telecoms, aviation and IT. Tell us a bit more about your background and how that led you to Neuron.

MM: I have always loved airplanes and rockets. After graduating from the University of Tennessee with a BSME and MBA (1985 football letterman – go Vols!), I joined Harris Corporation selling satellite communications and deployable antennas for spacecraft. I left the space industry for several years and then in 2006, joined the LiveTV team leading the IFC program for JetBlue. It was an amazing time in the industry. Since then I have worked for Thales, SAP and then back to the industry working at Global Eagle (now Anuvu). Last year, I joined Neuron and am loving every minute of it.

In my career, I’ve gotten to see the evolution of the IFC industry first-hand, from getting Wi-Fi on the first commercial aircraft to full fleet rollouts. When it comes to technology, the aviation industry faces a lot of headwinds, but it has made incredible progress and I’m excited about the opportunities ahead.

Why is IFC still such a challenge for the aviation industry?  

MM: Adding IFC onto commercial fleets is like “chasing your tail.” From the regulations to the supplemental certifications that need to be completed, to the time it takes to install new technology on an aircraft – it’s a very slow and calculated process for safety. At the same time, passenger expectations for Wi-Fi are made on the ground and in their homes. With the burden of a heavily regulated industry, it is really challenging for airlines to keep up with the pace at which technology is evolving, as well as the quality of experience and cost expectations of customers.

How does Neuron help address the IFC challenge? What makes it unique in the industry?

MM: Since joining the company, I’ve been amazed at what Neuron is able to do in aviation now, and what we’re planning to do in the future. The industry has been talking about the independent measurement of the passenger experience for many years, but the reality is that for a long time, the primary method of testing IFC from a passenger experience standpoint has been having people fly and provide anecdotal feedback on whether or not it worked well. 

Neuron has found the “secret sauce” with our thin client approach and AI solutions to accurately predict the passenger experience. There’s no need for manual IFC testing – it can all be done in the background on a server or with an iPhone app. Now, airlines can finally get a real-time, accurate view of each flight’s QoE, and tools for post-flight analytics that can be sliced and diced to get a holistic, 360-degree view of the IFC experience. This insight allows airlines to work more closely with their IFC provider(s) to make the passenger experience better and increase their NPS.

Why is QoE such an important metric for airlines to measure?

MM: QoE is a relatively new term in the IFC industry. Historically, the industry has focused on metrics such as SLAs, CIRs, internet speeds and availability. What we’ve found is that the actual QoE score is much, much more impactful to the airline because it’s focused on the outcome they care about most – digital experience. Are their passengers able to work during a flight without issues accessing documents? Are they able to stream a show on Netflix without significant loading or lag times? And if not, why?

Being able to provide an airline with an independent, real-time assessment of their fleet’s QoE, combined with data on all the factors that impact QoE and post-flight analytics is really powerful. And with Neuron, all data is calculated based on space and time, updating constantly to provide an accurate view of performance and trends as an aircraft moves. This enables airlines to accurately predict QoE and focus the right amount of resources to maximize NPS.

In the cruise industry, we’ve seen a shift in recent years toward a multi-provider model. Do you envision airlines doing the same?

MM: This is one of my favorite topics. Neuron is a leader in the cruise industry with Neuron Grid, our AI-powered network management solution. Grid allows companies in the maritime space to blend any combination of connectivity they choose, which can be multi-provider, multi-orbit and/or multi-network, into one, vendor-neutral environment. It then uses AI and machine learning to correlate all the real-time data Neuron pulls from those services to make traffic routing decisions at a pace that’s not humanly possible, optimizing for the best QoE. It is revolutionizing how the cruise industry manages connectivity services.

I see the inevitability of this coming to aviation. The industry is already talking about multi-orbit. Multi-provider will also be among the next hot topics, especially with Starlink and more LEO players coming to the market. I have been in the IFC industry since the early days. I have watched it move from ATG vs Satellite, KU vs Ka, GEO vs LEO and now multi-orbit. The next logical step is multi-provider, and we see our Grid product being a key element of that future.

How do you see the industry evolving over the next decade?

MM: I believe we are starting another chapter in IFC with the advent of multi-orbit solutions and eventually the ability to use multiple providers and orbits on each aircraft. I see a day in the not-so-distant future when airlines are not worried about bandwidth speeds or quality of service – it just works. This is starting to happen in the cruise market – the internet is there, and for cruise lines that are using the right tools, it works great all the time.

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