Boeing's in-flight broadband launches in Asia

In-flight broadband Internet access was launched in Asia on Tuesday with the take-off of Lufthansa flight 715 from Tokyo to Munich.

The service is based on The Boeing Co.'s Connexion by Boeing service and its launch in Asia follows Lufthansa AG's rollout on its flight between Munich and Los Angeles in May. The service uses a wireless LAN on board the aircraft and connects through a satellite link to offer passengers a shared Internet connection with downstream capacity of 5M bps (bits per second) and upstream capacity of 1M bps.

Launch of the service was announced at a Tokyo news conference where Lufthansa and Boeing demonstrated the connectivity by holding a live video conference with Lufthansa representatives on the aircraft.

"What is normal for us on the ground is becoming normal for us in the air," said Bernhardt Seiter, director of Lufthansa's Flynet service.

Lufthansa will offer the service every day on its flights 714 and 715 each way between Munich and Tokyo. Users have a choice of two payment schemes: US$29.95 for the entire flight or US$9.95 for 30 minutes of access and then a per-minute fee of US$0.25.

Passengers can also get free access to a Lufthansa portal called Flynet. The service consists of more than 1,000 pages of news and information, travel guides, Lufthansa-related content and shopping. Some parts of the portal, such as the news, are updated about once per hour during the flight.

At present passengers need an access device such as notebook PC or PDA (personal digital assistant) to access the content, but Lufthansa is considering adding it to the aircraft's entertainment system beginning in 2005 or 2006, Seiter said.

Later this year the airline plans to expand the service to other flights serving Asia, including flights between Germany and Osaka, Japan, and China as well as on other routes to India, the Middle East and Canada.

A number of other airlines are planning to begin offering the service this year. Three have signed agreements with Boeing: SAS AB's Scandinavian Airline Systems and Japan's All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines System. Another four have signed preliminary agreements: British Airways, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines and Taiwan's China Airlines. Qantas has not signed so far.

The airlines are hoping the service will provide them with a competitive advantage over rivals and also say the system can help them cut their own charges by improving the company's own aircraft-to-ground communications. For example, aircraft maintenance information can be sent to ground crews ahead of time, reducing turnaround time for repairs.

Lufthansa said passenger take-up of the service is currently on target. The first route on which Lufthansa offered the service, the LH425/453 flights between Munich and Los Angeles, is seeing usage levels of about 10 to 20 passengers per flight, which is in line with the airline's expectations at this point, Seiter said.

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Martyn Williams

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