Aeroplanes to get high-speed Web access

Passengers will be able to email and surf the Web at speeds of up to 64 kilobits per second via an Inmarsat satellite

Aeroplane passengers should soon be able to surf the Web at near-broadband speeds while in the air.

Satellite operator Inmarsat announced on Tuesday that its Swift64 service, which offers fast voice and data services to aeroplane passengers, at speeds of up to 64 kilobits per second (kbps), is now available to airlines.

Swift64 is designed for business people who will want to send and receive data, or even videoconference, while travelling. It also aims to be a useful tool for the flight crew. "In the aeronautical sector, demand for access to business-critical information is the major driver for aircraft operators and their passengers," said Inmarsat in a statement.

To start with, Swift64 will be restricted to corporate jets, and will only offer mobile ISDN connections. Inmarsat plans to add a mobile packet data option later this year, and predicts that the service will be extended to commercial airliners by the end of 2002.

Inmarsat will encourage customers to use its Mobile ISDN for sending and receiving large files and for making secure voice and data calls. It also claims that video-conferencing will be supported, although at 64 kbps it seems unlikely that this will be of particularly decent quality. The IP-based Mobile Packet Data service will be recommended to customers who want to email and surf the Web.

According to Inmarsat, around 80 percent of modern long-haul commercial aircraft and over 1,000 corporate jets have the antenna needed to support Swift64.

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