Net access while you fly

In the not-too-distant future, airline passengers will be able to access the Internet as they cruise the friendly skies.

Inmarsat, a London-based satellite operations company, announced last week at Telecom 99 it has developed an inflight system that will let passengers and crew send and receive data at transmission rates of up to 64Kbps. The system is actually an upgrade of already existing services on airplanes that enable passengers to make a phone call from their seats, according to an Inmarsat representative.

To use the airline network, passengers will plug in their laptops into a modem outlet at their seats that will link them to an onboard server. A satellite transmitter on the airplane transmits the signal to one of Inmarsat's nine geostationary satellites, where it is beamed to earth to a LES (land earth station) operated by a service provider. The LES sends and receives communications through Inmarsat's satellites and provides the connection between the satellite system and fixed communications networks.

Working in partnerships with service providers, Inmarsat will market the service directly to commercial airlines and operators of corporate and government planes.

Inmarsat's satellite services are offered through some 100 service providers, and equipment manufacturers and distributors offer global sales and support, according to information on the company Web site.

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