Lufthansa broadband poised to take flight

From next month, some airline passengers will be able to enjoy high-speed connectivity in the air from a standard laptop using Wi-Fi

Passengers travelling long-distance with Lufthansa will be able to get a wireless broadband connection from next month, when the airline becomes the first to launch a commercial broadband service for passengers.

After testing the system during 2003, Lufthansa is now gearing up for full-scale deployment across its entire fleet of long-haul aircraft.

"Certainly by next month, we'll have our first broadband-enabled aeroplane officially flying," a Lufthansa spokesman told ZDNet UK on Monday.

"It worked brilliantly when we trialled it last year. Our advantage over other companies who are trialling in-flight Internet services is that ours gives a true broadband connection. It's as fast as working in the office," he added.

Lufthansa's in-flight Internet service was developed in partnership with Connexion by Boeing. As ZDNet UK reported back in January 2003, Connexion by Boeing's system uses a geostationary satellite to provide a 20 megabits per second (Mbps) downlink from the Internet to the plane, and a 1Mbps uplink.

Users will be able to access the bandwidth with a Wi-Fi-enabled device, or they'll be able to plug into an in-flight network with an Ethernet cable.

It's likely to take until the end of 2005 before all of Lufthansa's 80 long-haul aeroplanes are upgraded to offer in-flight Internet access.

As well as letting passengers surf the Internet and access their office computer systems, the airline anticipates that users will be able to create their own in-flight entertainment by accessing Internet radio stations and streamed video.

The system could also be of great help if a passenger is taken ill mid-flight.

"In a possible medical emergency, pilots already talk to doctors by phone to get advice on whether they should divert their plane and land immediately. Once we have broadband onboard, we can contemplate rigging up a heart monitor and sending data electronically," explained the Lufthansa spokesman, adding that work on this area wasn't finalised yet.

Several other major airlines are experimenting with in-flight broadband services, including British Airways, Singapore Airways and Japan Airlines. British Airways began offering the service on a trial basis in February 2003 on a flight between London and New York.