Aeroplane Wi-Fi could fly again

A cheaper, faster service could rise from the ruins of Boeing's Connexion service, thanks to Panasonic

Despite the failure of Boeing's Connexion wireless service, Wi-Fi while you fly could be on the cards again before long.

In an announcement on Thursday, Panasonic said it hopes to step in to replace the Boeing service that offered Wi-Fi, but made a loss for Boeing and was shut down in August. The company expects to offer the Wi-Fi service to airlines for the equivalent of about $10 (£5.25) per flight.

Panasonic's avionics division is planning to offer a similar service to airlines such as Lufthansa which used the Connexion service, and will fund the transition using the cancellation fees and compensation those airlines are getting from Boeing.

Before the plan takes off, Panasonic wants airlines to commit to putting Wi-Fi in 500 planes, and already has orders for 150, according to an article in Shephard Inflight Online. "We have a complete system designed, developed and ready to go, but we're determined to avoid one of the things that brought Connexion down — lack of an initial fleet big enough to assure acceptable pricing for the airlines," said Panasonic strategic marketing director David Bruner.

"Lufthansa has over 60 planes with Connexion and SAS about 20," commented Glenn Fleishman of Wi-Fi Net News. "I suspect both airlines have signed on."

The first airlines to sign up will get the service cheaper, and get preferential access to the service's satellite bandwidth.

Planes with Connexion on-board already, need only replace the modem, Bruner said, and would get an upgrade to 12Mbps (Megabits per second) to the plane, from Boeing's 5Mbps, with uploads from the plane increasing from 1Mbps to 3Mbps. They could also save weight, a major airline concern: "It costs thousands of dollars per long-haul flight just to move Connexion's equipment around, regardless of passenger count or passenger usage," said Fleishman.

Boeing failed to get any US airlines to take the service, and suffered from the downturn in air travel after the 9/11 attacks.

One operator that might have money to spend on a Panasonic service is Korea Airlines, which is suing Boeing for $12m for loss of service.