by April 3, 2003 0 comments

On long trans-continental flights, there is nothing that irks the connected traveler more than the fact that his connections have been cut without choice. The good news is that you can now have your regular Internet fix even when you are flying.

Tenzing, a US-based company, offers an e-mail-only solution to passengers while the aircraft is in flight, with Cathay Pacific being the first carrier to offer the service from March 2003. The bandwidth is provided by PCCW NETVIGATOR, a Hong Kong ISP. Connectivity is currently limited to the business and executive classes and the front rows of the economy class.

When the plane is in flight, Tenzing’s network bridges the distance between the home ISP’s network and the plane. 

To use this service, you need to register at the netvigator site and then download their software on your laptop for connecting while flying. While they claim that most POP3 mail servers are supported, Web-based systems, like Hotmail and Yahoo, mail are not. 

The service is in a free trial period till June 2003, after which payment will be a basic fee to view e-mail headers ($9.95, approx 
Rs 450) per trip. Mail download or sending will cost extra ($.6 /kb).

Connexion, as Boeing calls its service, aims to bring broadband connectivity to your airplane seat. The service was launched in January this year on a Lufthansa flight (Frankfurt to Washington) and slightly later on British Airways. More aircraft from both these airlines, as well as from Japan Airlines, will soon provide the service.

Boeing uses a new solid-state phased array antenna mounted on the aircraft to deliver broadband while in flight. Lufthansa offers 3 mbps for downloads and 128 kbps (to go up to 750 kbps) for uploads. They have set up a portal called flynet that is expected to remain free for use, while e-mailing, etc is expected to be charged (30 to 35 Euros (Rs 1,500 to Rs 1,800) per flight leg. 

Given the large amount of bandwidths available, Boeing is promising not only e-mailing and Web browsing, but also broadband TV and videoconferencing. 

Screaming Media will aggregate the content for Connexion. It will also present destination-specific content to the aircraft. Subsequent to the award of the contract,
Screaming Media has changed its name to Pinnacor. Connexion is not new, having been operational for some time, servicing business jets and government aircraft in the US. It has its enterprise operations center at Irvine, California, from where operations are controlled. Leased satellite transponders deliver the bandwidth to the flying aircraft. 

A server is set up in each plane and fifteen thousand feet of cabling is used to provide connections to the passengers. Even with so much of wiring, not every seat has a connection. Only the forward classes have the connectivity on every seat, irrespective of the airline. Obviously, it is early days for Internet connections while flying.

Krishna Kumar

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