Boeing installs Wi-Fi on its planes

After a year of hints and trials, Deutsche Lufthansa AG has announced the launch of Wi-Fi on board its long-distance aircraft.

The Connexion service is provided by plane maker The Boeing Co., and will also appear in planes owned by SAS AB's Scandinavian Airlines, Japan Airlines System Corp.'s Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines Ltd. and All Nippon Airways Co. Ltd. before the end of the year.

Connexion by Boeing acts as the ISP, and you can already sign up here, to use the service on planes as they come on-stream. The satellite link deployed could have as much as 20 Mbit/s download and 1 Mbit/s upload, shared between the users on board, according to Lufthansa. Pricing is unclear, but U.S. sources quote US$30 a flight.

The service is based on a hotspot-in-a-box product from Colubris Networks Inc., ruggedized for the air by Miltope Group Inc.

Users will be able to access the bandwidth with a Wi-Fi-enabled device, or they'll be able to plug into an in-flight network with an Ethernet cable. Don't expect it on every Lufthansa flight right away, however. It will take the German airline till the end of 2005 to upgrade all its 80 long-haul planes. For users without Wi-Fi, the service can be accessed over an Ethernet cable.

Connexion's ambitions don't end there, with plans to put its service on cruise ships, merchant fleets and private yachts. It is also well on the way to offering VoIP. "We see voice as a formal offering as part of our service evolution, subject to clearing the regulatory approval," Stan Deal, vice president of global network sales at Connexion told IDG last year.

Voice would be a real boon, as cellphone are banned on planes. Connexion may go the whole way and create airborne pico-cells giving GPRS connectivity, so passengers can use their existing phones, or else may simply offer voice over Wi-Fi, for which passengers will have to use VoIP phones -- such as those from Spectralink Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. -- or dual-mode phones when available, over the Wi-Fi network

Connexion has competition from Tenzing Communications Inc., an outfit which uses existing 2.4 kbit/s data links to the plane, and is only suited to email, not web surfing. It also requires users to load a specific client for the service, and all for US$20 per flight.

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