Connexion Set For Takeoff
By Carlo Longino, Thu Mar 25 21:30:00 GMT 2004

Boeing's in-flight Internet service will launch on German carrier Lufthansa next month. The pricing looks good, and the company's selling airlines on benefits beyond customer Net access.

We told you yesterday about Lucent's idea to use EV-DO for backhaul for Wi-Fi access points in trains and cars, and right on cue, news about Connexion popped up.

An interview with Connexion's president provides some details about the service: it's got 4 channels of 5 megabits per second downstream from its satellite connection, and 1 megabit upstream (plenty fast!), will initially use only Wi-Fi for passenger connections (plenty cool!), and in a separate piece, pricing is revealed at rates ranging from $9.95 for 30 minutes to $29.95 for the duration of flights of 6 hours or longer (plenty cheap!).

Lufthansa will start the service in April on certain routes, followed by Singapore Airlines in late summer, SAS, Japan Airlines, and All Nippon Airways in the fall, with China Airlines in early 2005. Passengers on all the airlines can connect only with Wi-Fi at first, but the other carriers are all seeking some sort of wired connection, as well as integration into their in-seat entertainment systems.

The Connexion system is miles better than the JetConnect service we looked at earlier in the month -- Connexion offers a wide-open, fast connection, rather than slow e-mail access and some synced content on an in-plane Web server. The pricing is far, far better as well -- $30 for a transcontinental flight is really peanuts, especially when compared to a $5 beer or cocktail.

But another interesting aspect to Connexion is that the company is selling carriers on the benefits the system offers apart from passenger connectivity. The system can be set to reserve one of its communication channels for applications that can allow planes to communicate maintenance information to the ground, for example, allowing airlines to streamline and better schedule repair work. Lufthansa also mentioned the possibility of putting connected medical equipment in the plane, so if a patient were to fall ill during a flight, data from a heart monitor could be sent to a doctor on the ground.

These are novel ideas, and well-suited to the struggling aviation industry. Offering a service that offers not only an additional revenue stream, but also operational efficiencies is bound to succeed.