Boeing, airlines team to offer 'Internet-in-the-air'

American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines on Wednesday announced plans to launch broadband airborne Internet service on a total of 1,500 aircraft, with initial service slated to start in the second half of next year.

The three airlines are teaming up with The Boeing Co. and initially plan service on domestic US and trans-Atlantic routes over satellite transponders leased from Loral Corp. and General Electric Co. Boeing has yet to sign an agreement for satellite capacity across the Pacific, according to Boeing spokesman Terrance Scott.

The Connexion by Boeing service will provide raw data speeds of 20M bit/sec. to the aircraft, with upload speeds from the planes of between 1M and 1.5M bit/sec., Scott said. The minimum guaranteed speed to a passenger will be 56K bit/sec., or the equivalent of a dial-up modem. Scott said he couldn't provide an average data transmission speed, but he was able to say that passengers would be slowed to 56K bit/sec. only if "all 300 passengers on the plane hooked in at the same time."

Boeing and its partners are still developing pricing for the Internet-in-the-sky service, Scott said, with initial rates "running about $US20 an hour, coming down to about $10 an hour when the service ramps up."

Tenzing Communications has already signed deals to provide similar Internet and e-mail service to a number of foreign carriers, including Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic in London.

Alan Reiter, an analyst at Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing, called the Connexion by Boeing service "a real winner and a no-brainer. ... Twenty dollars an hour is far less than what it costs to make just a satellite phone call today." But, he added, "this is the kind of service where the devil is in the details ... and United has a hard time getting its laptop power ports to work."

Connexion by Boeing is owned and operated by a joint venture created by Boeing and its three airline partners, with each sharing in revenues. Scott declined to explain the terms of the revenue-sharing agreement.

Boeing, which initially announced the Connexion service in April 2000, predicted then that 10-year worldwide revenues from broadband airborne Internet services could hit $70 billion.

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