Lufthansa pilots onboard WLAN service

On flight LH 418 from Frankfurt, Germany, to Washington, DC, Lufthansa AG began on Wednesday a three-month trial for a new onboard wireless broadband service that allows travelers to connect to the Internet some 10,000 meters in the sky.

Lufthansa is the first airline in the world to provide a high-speed WLAN (wireless LAN) service during a scheduled flight, the company said Wednesday in a statement.

The German airline is working with Connexion by Boeing, a unit of The Boeing Co. in Seattle, to provide the satellite-based onboard data communications service, called FlyNet. The two companies have been collaborating since June 2001.

On the ground, Lufthansa is partnering with Vodafone Group PLC to provide WLAN services in 55 airport lounges around the globe. The lounge service will be available beginning in March

Lufthansa's new airborne WLAN service will be available for free to all passengers on flights between Frankfurt and Washington, D.C., until April 15, the airline said. Beginning in 2004, the service will cost between €30 (AUD$54) and €35 per ($63) flight, it said. Passengers can use bonus miles as part of Lufthansa's Miles&More frequent flyer program to pay for the service, it said.

Users will be able to download from the Internet at speeds up to 3M bps (bits per second) and upload, initially, at speeds up to 128K bps, according to Lufthansa. The upload speeds will later increase to 750K bps, it said.

Lufthansa has lined up several large companies, such as BASF AG, Siemens AG and Software AG, to take part in the pilot service and test access to their own corporate intranets and mail servers via a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection, the airline said.

Cisco Systems Inc. is providing technology for the onboard 802.11b based network, which offers wireless connectivity throughout all cabins, in addition to wireline connectivity via an Ethernet connector in the passenger seats, according to a company statement. Five Cisco Aironet 350 series access points have been fitted throughout the plane, along with one Cisco 3640 router and nine Cisco Catalyst 3548 XL series switches, the company said. Cisco's equipment has been modified, tested and certified by Lufthansa to meet civil aviation regulations, it said.

Users can connect any standard notebook to the onboard network via an Ethernet network cable, according to Lufthansa. During the pilot program, several notebook computers from Fujitsu Siemens Computers (Holding) BV, equipped with WLAN cards, will be available on board to use for free, the airline said.

The FlyNet portal, which was developed together with German content provider Tomorrow-Focus AG, provides a range of current information, including financial, travel and lifestyle news, as well as information from Lufthansa, according to the airline.

By mid-2004, Lufthansa plans to introduce FlyNet throughout its long-range fleet consisting of 80 aircraft, the airline said.

Connexion by Boeing faces competition from other companies, including Tenzing Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., which are pushing their own narrowband onboard systems. However, neither has yet to launch a more advanced broadband service.

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