Internet for Air Travelers Announced


Wednesday, April 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


NEW YORK (AP) _ The pool of firms vying to provide airline passengers with high-speed Internet service just got another player.

Inmarsat Ltd., the British satellite communications firm, announced Tuesday it would begin selling satellite bandwidth to fliers who wish to surf the Web, send e-mail and eventually, watch television.

The service, called Swift64 and resold by four separate providers, will be offered to corporate jet owners in June and to commercial airliners by year's end, said Simon Tudge, an Inmarsat marketing manager.

Swift64 will offer data speeds of up to 64 kilobits per second, equivalent to an earth-bound digital subscriber line, or DSL, connection.

A smattering of other firms already offer _ or are girding to provide _ satellite Internet or television on airplanes. They include the Boeing Co. and Tenzing Communications, a partial subsidiary of European airline builder Airbus Industrie.

Inmarsat's is the first service to make use of antennas already installed on 4,000 commercial airliners and private jets that use Inmarsat for communications.

Making use of existing antennas cuts the cost of installation of an on-board high-speed data system by as much as $250,000, Trudge said.

To use the service, carriers need to upgrade an aircraft's avionics _ a $200,000 investment _ as well as wire the plane with a computer network to provide an Internet jack at each seat. In most cases, passengers would connect their own laptop computers to the network.

The network would connect to a single on-board Internet server that transmits and receives data via the plane's Inmarsat antenna.

Trudge said bandwidth would be provided to the aircraft at about $11-$15 per minute, which could be resold to passengers at the carrier's discretion.

Other satellite providers are scrambling to offer similar services.

Boeing is gearing to offer a satellite communications called Connexion, which will provide television as well as high-speed Internet.

So far, only German carrier Lufthansa has so agreed to purchase it. Lufthansa plans to begin selling the service on flights in late 2002 or early 2003.

Boeing's commercial airline competitor, Airbus, jumped into the business when it purchased a 30 percent stake in Seattle-based Tenzing Communications last June.

Tenzing is a start-up company that resells slower speed satellite bandwidth to airlines. Its service will be available on Varig airlines in May, Cathay Pacific Airways in June and others by year's end, a spokesman said.