Fasten your seatbelts. Broadband is taking off. Literally. Just a few years ago, airborne honchos were happy to tinker with their presentations or documents on their laptops while on their long flights to and from meetings. Things have been changing steadily and leading airlines are gearing up to offer broadband services 30,000 feet above sea level, thanks to wireless Internet, with firms finding new technologies to aid passengers.
In the United States, American Airlines plans to test a broadband flight by the end of the year, and its fleet of Boeing 767s that fly across the Atlantic will be ready to serve passengers with Net access sometime in 2008.
Christian Science Monitor reports that Virgin America is close on its heels with plans to equip every seat back with high-speed capability by mid-2008. Alaska Airlines will run a test next year and, based on its outcome, the company hopes to outfit its whole fleet. In-flight wireless Internet service has been available on dozens of daily flights throughout the world, but the technology has faced regulatory problems in the United States, says industry portal m-travel.com.
Surveys show that as many as 70 per cent of passengers want wireless Internet, which uses the wi-fi technology. Boeing had a service called Connexion, which several airlines including Lufthansa used, but last year, Boeing stopped it. There were also problems in catching satellite signals on wide-bodied planes moving at high speed.
However, the technology has changed now and lighter, cheaper antennas and easier broadband services have made the services a viable possibility.
AirCell, the technology provider that serves American and Virgin America, uses ground-based technology, the way cellphone service providers use towers. Row 44, another service provider, is using a satellite-based system.
"There's absolutely no way you can provide a cost-effective, or as good broadband service using any other technology," Christian Science Monitor quoted Jack Blumenstein, president and CEO of AirCell, as saying. "If you can communicate with a cell tower that's five miles away versus a satellite that's 38,000 miles away, there's absolutely no choice about which is going to be the most effective, technology."