Airborne Wi-Fi Picking Up Speed

Airborne Wi-Fi Picking Up Speed

It’s been a year since Germany’s Lufthansa introduced onboard wireless Internet access on some flights, and at least eight other international airlines are following its lead.

According to USA Today, Japan Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Singapore Airlines have launched the service since Lufthansa introduced it in May 2004. Korean Air will launch Wi-Fi this summer, while El Al, China and Asiana airlines will follow later this year.

In-flight Wi-Fi costs as much as $29.95 for the longest flights, and allows passengers to send and receive emails, join a Web conference, check stock prices, sports scores and weather forecasts, and pay bills in the air. Technologically-equipped passengers can even use the service to make phone calls.

The service relies on satellites and a special antenna on airplanes to create an onboard “hot spot” comparable to those at Starbucks cafes. Boeing told USA Today reporter Barbara De Lollis that the connection is as good as a high-speed cable connection, even when several passengers are using it simultaneously.

Use of the service is exceeding industry expectations. De Lollis reported that SAS sees up to 30 passengers per U.S. flight using it, while Lufthansa and ANA report between 10 and 20 users per international flight.

The service is based on technology developed by Connexion by Boeing, which told USA Today that it expects to announce more airline customers soon. In fact, Boeing expects the current number of daily flights with Wi-Fi service — about 100 — to double by the beginning of next year.

Not everyone is thrilled. “Flying is my alone time,” one frequent flyer told De Lollis. “I rest and read to get caught up.”

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