Emirates is to put a wireless Lan e-mail service on some of its aircraft.
The deal is the first wireless Lan partnership for Tenzing Communications, which already provides software and infrastructure for wired in-flight internet systems on other airlines.
Tenzing is working with Europe's Airbus SAS and a division of Matsushita Electric Industrial to equip Emirates' new Airbus A340-500 jets with Wi-Fi Lans.
Unlike the Connexion by Boeing in-flight internet service, Tenzing's service is not designed for full web browsing but is focused on e-mail, said Alan McGinnis, chief executive officer of Tenzing.
Tenzing can set up a service less expensively and pass the savings on to passengers, McGinnis said.
On a long-haul Emirates flight such as Dubai to San Francisco, it is likely to cost less than $20.
Connexion by Boeing last year estimated airlines would sell its service for between $15 for short-haul domestic flights and $30 for long-haul trips.
Tenzing's service runs on special client software, which customers will be able to download from Emirates' website before the flight. With the wireless Lan, which will be built in to the A340-500s as an optional feature, passengers with standard Wi-Fi notebook PCs will be able to connect wirelessly to an onboard server. Dialup e-mail access from seatbacks will also be available.
From the plane, e-mail goes to a satellite and then down to a ground station operated by Tenzing, which is the internet service provider. It uses the plane's existing satellite radio communication system, with a narrow connection - 2.4Kbps each way - so that messages are batched on the server and sent periodically, McGinnis said.
Tenzing's software supports a wide variety of e-mail clients including any POP3 client, and can support some types of corporate virtual private networks.
The company probably will offer support for IBM Lotus Notes mail in the next few months, he added.
Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service