Wireless Technology Takes to the Skies

Since 2006 airlines have been working on ways to allow internet connections to passengers above the clouds. Boeing abandoned its efforts, but American Airlines, Delta and Lufthansa persevered with the result that both companies will soon be able to offer Wi-Fi services to their customers. American Airlines has already announced that it will be the first carrier to offer the service on domestic flights.

According to Iain Thomson from vnunet.com, American Airlines will use Aircell’s Gogo network of 92 towers across the US. Delta will also use the Aircell service, but it won’t be available in any of their flights for a few more months. American Airlines will implement the Wi-Fi service in its Boeing 767-200 aircraft on non-stop flights between New York and San Francisco, New York and LA and New York and Miami, while Delta will offer the service on all 330 of its aircraft used for domestic flights. Both carriers will charge a flat rate of $12.95 (£6.80) for flights that are longer than three hours and Delta will charge $9.95 (£5.41) for flights that are three hours or less. Neither will allow VoIP calls to be made.

Lufthansa, who were pioneers in the Wi-Fi arena until they were let down by Boeing and their deal with Connexion, announced that it will re-introduce broadband internet connection services on long haul flights some time this year. While it’s keeping mum on its partners, The Wall Street Journal has reported that it will be using connectivity services from T-Mobile. As with American Airlines and Delta, Lufthansa won’t allow VoIP calls so that other passengers won’t be disturbed by loud conversations.

Apparently the technology to offer wireless services on board flights has been available for some time, but it was never thought to be economically viable. Now, with the rising costs of fuel and rapidly shrinking profit margins, as well as developments in Air-to-Ground technology, airlines are keen to see the services implemented as soon as possible.

Depending on altitude, air speed and the number of users, Delta’s Wi-Fi service would operate at speeds of around 1Mbps, which is a far cry from the 100 – 120Kbps that were practicable with Lufthansa two years ago.

In a histrionic announcement, Jack Blumenstein, president of Aircell, said that with the advent of on-flight Wi-Fi, US air travel was changed for ever, as passengers would no longer be cut off from the rest of the world while air borne. Delta’s CEO, Richard Anderson, was much more down-to-Earth when he said that Delta was responding to customer requests for in-flight connectivity.