Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Connect Aloft With The Flying ISP

Do you suffer from Internet withdrawal when you fly? Does your PC seem almost useless sitting on that plastic tray table? No need to be offline anymore, at least on some popular international routes.

Connexion by Boeing is a broadband Internet service that gives you broadband at 30,000 ft. as you wing your way overseas. You can browse the Internet, send and receive email, and even connect to your corporate VPN. In some cases, it's a flying hotspot. Otherwise, you plug in an Ethernet cable.

So how does Connexion service work? It's satellite based Internet service with the satellite receiver mounted atop the aircraft. That sounds like the satellite Internet service you can get at home, but with one little wrinkle. The plane is moving. Not just moving, but zipping over the ocean at 600 miles an hour. A regular dish antenna wouldn't do any good because it wouldn't stay pointed at the satellite for long.

Instead, Boeing has developed a Ku band phased array antenna that electronically tracks the satellite signal. Phased array antennas have long been used by the military and now weather radar systems. There are no moving parts. The antenna is made up of a number of elements whose signals can be combined to be perfectly in phase in a particular direction.

The Connexion satellite link is a 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speed to the plane. Like any other ISP or Wi-Fi hotspot, this backbone speed is shared among the users through an onboard router. In many cases, it's a wireless router. You simply set up a wireless profile for Connexion by Boeing and then sign up for service using your web browser. Prices range from $7.95 for 30 minutes use on short flights to $29.95 for full service on flights over 6 hours.

Here's some more good news. Boingo has just announced an arrangement so that Boingo subscribers also have access to Connexion by Boeing. Would you call that Boeingo?

The Connexion service is available extensively on Lufthansa, and also available on Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways. It should be starting soon if not already available on Scandinavian Airlines.

Check the Connexion by Boeing Website to see if the flights you are interested in have the broadband service available. Service on US domestic flights has been delayed by all the financial problems, but may start as soon as 2006. The FCC is reviewing licensing for the Aeronautical Mobile Satellite Service that could also open the market to other providers.

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