In-flight Internet set for take-off

UK satellite communications company Inmarsat has made its in-flight Internet access service available to the corporate jet market...

UK satellite communications company Inmarsat has made its in-flight Internet access service available to the corporate jet market and expects to do the same for commercial airlines by the end of the year.

London-based Inmarsat will first roll out its Swift64 service with ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) Internet access, which it expects to be fully operational on corporate aircraft within a few months. The ISDN access will have maximum speeds of 64Kbps and will use its satellite communication antenna infrastructure, Inmarsat said.

Swift64 will allow users to access Internet-based applications such as e-mail, video streaming and file transfer while in flight and the service will also be offered to maritime customers as Inmarsat Fleet F77, beginning this week.

Aircraft that are already fitted with antennas need to equip their planes with networks and ports into which travellers can plug in their laptops to use the service, Inmarsat said. According to the company, up to 80% of modern long-haul commercial aircraft and over 1,000 corporate jets already have antennas installed.

Servers for e-mail connections will be placed onboard the aircraft and users will be able to connect to the Swift64 service from their laptop computers using an Ethernet LAN connection, Inmarsat said.

Inmarsat will be competing against Tenzing Communications which announced last month that it has teamed with Baker Electronics to offer CabinLINK, an in-flight e-mail and Internet browsing service for corporate and private airline passengers.

Last November, a project by Boeing to put high-speed Internet connections in its planes suffered a major setback when its three primary partners in Connexion by Boeing withdrew financial support in light of large financial losses following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

Inmarsat would sell bandwidth to the airlines, which would in turn sell it to passengers, though Inmarsat did not outline its bandwidth charges.

By the time the Swift64 service is offered to commercial airlines, Inmarsat expects to be running its Mobile Packet Data service based on based on IP (Internet Protocol), the company said. With the Mobile Packet Data service, Swift64 users will only be charged for the data that they send and receive, not the time they are connected, Inmarsat said.

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