Boeing gets FCC license for Internet service on planes

The Boeing Co. has been granted a license by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to launch its new airborne Internet service. However, the project still faces delays because of recent decisions to pull out by the three U.S. airlines that were helping to fund the effort.

The FCC last month gave Boeing the green light to operate up to 800 two-way broadband connectivity stations on its aircraft, provided the Chicago-based company can do so "without causing harmful interference to other allocated services" on the frequency bands that it plans to use.

Airplane passengers using the Connexion by Boeing service will be able to access the Internet and corporate intranets as well as e-mail while flying above U.S. territory and waters. Airlines will have to retrofit their planes with Ethernet-type wiring and phased-array antennas to offer the service, according to Boeing.

The FCC license "is a big momentum-builder for us in our effort to gain international regulatory approval" for the service, a Boeing spokesman said. As part of the licensing process, the company tested a Boeing 737 to show that the technology won't interfere with other spectrum uses.

But Boeing still faces challenges in getting Connexion off the ground.

In late November, American Airlines Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Air Lines Inc. pulled out of the joint venture that was developing the service because they had all suffered financial blows in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

German airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG is the only one teaming with Boeing on the project. The Boeing spokesman said Lufthansa plans to launch the Internet service on some of its planes late this year or in early 2003.

He added that American, Delta and United are still interested in the service and will participate in a series of meetings beginning this month to define how it should work.

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