Chatbots without internet, lessons from 30.000 feet

Jan 29, 2020

Chatbots are often perceived as an internet-related phenomenon, but they don’t necessarily need the internet to work.




Although Chatbots are ultimately just computer programs, most of us experience them as an internet-based phenomenon, be it on a messaging app like WhatsApp or on a website. The reason is that most chatbots connect a company to its users via the internet.

However, on a technical level, there’s nothing stopping them from doing the same on a private network like, for example, a cruise ship’s or train’s Wi-Fi system.

Copying the WIFE system

To understand how this works we’ll look at the aviation industry, where something called “WIFE” has recently revolutionized the way people entertain themselves on flights. A while back airlines started noticing something; passengers were bringing all sorts of devices on their planes: laptops, smartphones, tablets, and anything in between.

This, somewhat unexpectedly, solved a problem for the airlines. In-flight entertainment systems, known in the industry as IFE, are expensive and cannot be installed on all planes. As a result, passengers that flew on long routes without enough volume to justify a large aircraft didn’t have much to entertain themselves resulting in lower customer satisfaction.

Airlines, seeing a sudden influx of new devices on their planes, realized that if they could find a way to stream content to these devices they would dramatically improve the passenger experience. Streaming via the internet was not an option due to the high-cost of satellite-based services and an alternative solution was needed. Something called WIFE, or Wireless In-Flight Entertainment.

The internet without the internet

WIFE systems on planes allow users to stream movies, listen to music, and play games using a normal Wi-Fi connection. The key difference is that this connection instead of linking the users to the internet communicates only with an onboard server that hosts all the content.

The system is also sometimes used to allow customers to request assistance, order food, or buy duty-free items without leaving their seats. To achieve this the on-board server is fitted with a booking engine that uses the same Wi-Fi network to talk to the cabin crew’s tablets and inform them of what the customers have requested.

Advanced WIFE systems also have the possibility to connect to the internet upon landing to share data like customer service reports with the head office and allow a seamless transition between the on-board experience and the rest of the customer journey.

The same server + Wi-Fi network logic can be applied to chatbots and be used to create local help services on things like cruise ships, long-distance busses, trains, and airplanes. On long trips, crews could also be trained to update the information used by the chatbots to keep them relevant and fresh.

To learn more about how your company could use chatbots, reach out to our team using the contact link below.