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Real, not pseudo, flying Internet


By Scott Bradner


Connexion by Boeing announced the other day that many air travelers, outside of the US, will soon be able to buy rationally priced real satellite-based Internet service while cruising along at 35,000 feet.  The announcement was in sharp contrast to the first reports on this type of service and to what other vendors are trying to pass off as an in-flight Internet service.


I first heard about a service like this was about three and a half years ago.  (See The folks working on the service at that time had rather unworldly expectations of what people would be willing to pay for in-flight Internet connectivity.  According to news reports they were planning to charge between $17.50 and $25 per hour.  The just announced service has a far more rational pricing structure.  You can pay as much as $15 per hour if you try hard enough but the normal pricing is a flat per-flight charge instead of a metered rate.  The flat rate starts at $14.95 for short (under 3 hour) flights, raises to $19.95 for medium (3-6 hour) flights and tops out at $29.95 for long (more than 6 hour) flights.  You can get a lower-cost metered rate if you only need to be on for a short period.  This is quite a bit more expensive than the normal hotel "high-speed" service but the cost is one that I would be willing to pay on most medium to long flights.


They have put together a very clear web page that details all of this and explains how the service works.  ( I talked to two representatives of Connexion by Boeing to get some more detailed information about the service and came away quite impressed.  They equip each plane with WiFi (802.11) access points and mount a mechanically steered antenna in a dome on top of the plane.   The antenna tracking is fast enough to be able to track the satellite thorough most normal plane motions.  The users connect to the system using an in-plane WiFi network.  Each plane has 4 receivers that are enabled as the traffic load to the plane requires.  The system download capacity is 20 Mbps per transponder region (e.g., the US) with an upload speed of up to 1 Mbps from a plane. The signals from the plane are sent from the plane, bounced off one of 8 geostationary satellites, down to one of 4 ground stations then to the Internet.  Round trip times are in the 800-1200 millisecond range, easily good enough for interactive web surfing, instant messaging and pop or imap email access.  The service coverage currently extends from the west coast of the US to Japan the long way.  Pacific Ocean coverage is scheduled to start in 2006.


This service provides real unfiltered interactive Internet access.  This is very different than systems such as Verizon's Airphone Jetconnect service. (  Jetconnect does not provide interactive Internet access; you can use it to retrieve your email if you trust them with your logname and password.  The service is justifiably cheap at $5.99 per flight segment but I have yet to find a use for it.


Lufthansa will be the first airline to roll out the Connexion by Boeing service (which Boeing will install on non-Boeing aircraft and even on yachts) with a number of other European and Asian carriers to follow.  No US carriers have signed up yet, I guess they are too busy trying to stay in the air to think of making things better for their customers.



disclaimer: People say lots of things about Harvard but "justifiably cheap" is not one of them, in addition, the University never travels, so the above exploration is mine alone.