Lufthansa prepares broadband service at 36,000ft

German airline Lufthansa is to launch a wireless broadband Internet service next month that will target executives and other...

German airline Lufthansa is to launch a wireless broadband Internet service next month that will target executives and other heavy data users both on the ground and in the air.

From 15 January, Lufthansa will offer broadband Internet service on a Boeing 747-400 that flies daily between Frankfurt and Washington DC. Lufthansa will also begin providing wireless LAN (WLAN) service in more than 50 lounges.

"Our aim is to offer broadband connectivity to passengers on all our long-haul flights outside Europe and in our many lounges around the world," Lufthansa spokesman Bernd Hoffman said. "We expect substantial demand for the service."

Connexion by Boeing, a unit of The Boeing Company in Seattle, will provide the satellite-based data communications service in the air. Vodafone will provide the WLAN service on the ground.

The in-flight broadband service will offer speeds of up to 20Mbps (bits per second) to the aircraft and 1Mbps from the aircraft, although the speeds can vary depending on the weather and other factors, said Connexion spokesman Terrance Scott.

"At the very minimum, customers should have ISDN (Integrated Service Digital Network) speeds of 64Kbps, but most of the time speeds will be much higher," said Hoffmann, adding that the WLAN service will be available at speeds up to 11Mbps.

The onboard Internet service will be free during the three-month trial. Initially, the WLAN service will also be free. None of the companies provided pricing details.

"We need to see how both technologies work and get a feel for what customers are willing to pay," Hoffmann said. "Whether we charge for each service separately or together and how we will brand and market the service are issues we still have to resolve."

First-class and business-class travellers will be able to plug their notebooks directly into the aircraft's onboard LAN with cables and sockets integrated into their seats or, alternatively, use a wireless connection. Economy-class passengers will only be able to connect to the system with WLAN-equipped notebooks.

Lufthansa has forged ahead with its plans to offer Internet connectivity onboard its aircraft despite last year's decision by Connexion's three primary airline partners - American Airlines, Delta Air Lines. and United Airlines - to withdraw their financial support after they incurred severe financial losses following the 11 September terrorist attacks

Meanwhile, Connexion has enlisted several other airline customers, including British Airways, Japan Airlines and Scandinavian Airlines.

BA will roll out Internet service aboard its aircraft in February.

Read more on Wireless networking