Japan Airlines System (JAL) and Boeing have signed a deal to install Connexion by Boeing in-flight internet system into some JAL aircraft from next year.
The deal with JAL, one of Japan's two major airlines and the first Asian carrier to make a firm deal to install the system, should see the service become available on routes between Japan and London from December 2004. After that the service is expected to be expanded to other routes between Japan and Europe and Japan and the Americas.
The Connexion by Boeing service provides passengers a broadband internet connection via satellite. Users can connect using their own notebook computers or PDAs via either Ethernet ports in seats or a wireless Lan on the aircraft.
Transmission speeds of the service vary with conditions but can be as fast as 20Mbps, said Scott Carson, president of Connexion by Boeing.
At least one-quarter of the bandwidth (5Mbps) is given over to passenger data needs with another quarter devoted to carriage of television broadcasts, a quarter for airline use and the final quarter as a buffer to provide extra bandwidth to the other applications when needed, he said. The upstream channel off the aircraft is 1Mbps.
"Connexion by Boeing gives [passengers] a lot of choice about how they spend that time [on board], whether it be listening to music, surfing the internet, communicating through instant message or e-mail or, if they are part of a corporate structure, going through the firewall and accessing their network," he said.
The system puts no restrictions on applications that can be run - it is a selling point of the service that users can run the same applications they normally do from their desk or home - although there is the ability to shut off or restrict users if they become "bandwidth hogs", Carson said.
Carson said he expected the service to cost between $15 and $17 for a three-to five-hour flight and between $25 and $30 on a long-haul flight for more than seven hours of access.
The company will also court corporate account customers, although it admits that it needs to become more widely available before many will sign on. For the service to be profitable the company needs business travelers, many of whom carry notebook computers, to log on while in the air.
"Our model says what we would like to see at maturity is 20% of the cabin using it, so on a Boeing 747 that's 60 to 70 people," said Carson.
"In our demonstrations, up to 120 people were using it, so the numbers look promising early on," he added, referring to trial runs earlier this year by British Airways and Lufthansa.
Carson said the company is also looking at the corporate jet market and reached an agreement last month under which Rockwell Collins will install and manage Connexion by Boeing systems on business jets.
Secondary markets such as maritime are also being eyed by the company as it begins to roll out commercial service and look for users to populate the system.
Carson said system trials had shown wireless Lan use on board the aircraft posed no problems to aircraft systems and that it is absolutely safe to use in flight.
Martyn Williams writes for IDG News Service