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Optical/IP

WLAN: Ready for Takeoff

Boeing subsidiary Connexion and Lufthansa AG have begun their tests of an in-flight wireless Internet access service on a commercial passenger plane that will travel between Frankfurt, Germany, and Washington, D.C., for the next three months.

The Boeing 747-400 has been equipped with five Cisco Aironet 350 802.11b access points -- to provide wireless connectivity throughout the cabins -- along with one 3640 router and nine Catalyst 3548 XL switches (see Fujitsu to Build ATMs). The Cisco equipment has been modified, tested, and certified by Lufthansa Technik in order to meet civil aviation regulations (see Germany OKs Boeing Connexion).

The companies said in August that one of the reasons for deploying a wireless LAN system throughout the plane is that it is lighter than providing wired connections to each of the 380 seats on a typical Lufthansa 747 (see When Will WLAN Get Its Wings?). While wireless connectivity is available throughout the plane, Lufthansa is only planning to offer wired Ethernet connections to passengers in first and business class.

The plane has a transceiver on the roof that connects it to Connexion's network of geostationary satellites. The satellite link between the plane and the ground will offer data rates of up to 3 Mbit/s downstream and 128 kbit/s upstream. This is less than the 5 Mbit/s downstream, 750 kbit/s that was originally promised, but it's doubtful there will be many users hogging this bandwidth initially.

Lufthansa will offer the service free during the three-month trial period, but plans to charge a flat rate of €30 ($31.80) per flight when the service is introduced commercially. Lufthansa has hopes to deploy the service during the next two years on its 80 aircraft flying intercontinental routes from Europe to North America and Asia.

Connexion will act as the service provider in this venture and present Lufthansa with billing and mediation data collected using software from Unstrung 25er Xacct Technologies Inc. (see Boeing Picks Xacct for Billing). The company has a software server on the plane that passes the data back to a billing system at Connexion's network operation center.

Anil Uberoi, senior VP of product marketing and business development at Xacct, says the software is necessary because, even though Lufthansa is charging a flat rate for the service, Connexion might develop pay-per-view services for special events such as the Superbowl, and other airlines might favor different pricing schemes.

Uberoi is just happy to see the program, er, take off. "This was supposed to happen a couple of years ago," he says. The September 11 attacks and the recession meant that the U.S. airlines that were initially interested decided money was too tight to invest in new programs. Instead, airlines such as Lufthansa, British Airways, and Japan Air have become the airline carriers at the forefront of these developments.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
spc_Fostereprints 12/5/2012 | 12:51:12 AM
re: WLAN: Ready for Takeoff First paragraph you wrote 'plan'...think it should be 'plane'! Just thought I'd let you know!
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