Lufthansa on track to reinstate high-speed Internet mid-year

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Star Alliance member Lufthansa is on track to reinstate high-speed in-flight Internet service on its long-haul aircraft in the middle of this year, a key partner reveals.

The German operator in 2009 tapped Panasonic Avionics to re-launch its so-called 'FlyNet' service on the majority of 70 aircraft already fitted with Connexion by Boeing (CBB) hardware.

"Lufthansa has a lot of aircraft provisioned for CBB so it's clear that will form an initial focus to activate," says AeroMobile chief commercial officer Peter Tuggey. "Lufthansa's target [to launch FlyNet] mid this year is still on track."

The rest of the Star Alliance operator's long-haul fleet will be fitted with Panasonic's eXConnect Internet solution by the end of 2011.

AeroMobile's own mobile connectivity service - which allows passengers to use their GSM handsets during flight and has been branded as eXPhone by Panasonic - will also be offered to Lufthansa passengers. The eXPhone service will operate over the Ku-band pipe that also supports Lufthansa's high-speed Internet service.

"The software that will basically operate on the aircraft, it needs to be changed slightly to reflect a Ku-band pipe. We recently received Ku-band equipment here that allows us to continue the [work] we're going through with Panasonic. The work with Lufthansa is mature," says Tuggey.

"Installation work is in progress in terms of the design work and getting that stuff aligned. A lot of the installation work [requires] a fairly long lead time - doing the RF tests and running cables. That has historically got a lot of lead time associated with it so any airline looking to launch [in-flight connectivity] this year arguably needs to be in play now."

Tuggey adds: "I think there will be positive news on Lufthansa in the not too distant future."

Panasonic, meanwhile, believes its in-flight connectivity business model will succeed where CBB failed.

Referencing CBB yesterday at the Satellite 2010 conference in Washington DC, Panasonic vice-president, global communications services David Bruner said Wi-Fi was "all they had" and there "just wasn't enough revenue generated to support a global Ku network".

By contrast, Panasonic has "a number of different revenue sources provided to airlines to reverse this trend".

The in-flight entertainment giant will offer eXConnect and eXPhone as well as this "new and kind of crazy service" known as the Panasonic Airborne Television Network, says Bruner.

"It's a bespoke television network. It's real-time and simultaneously delivers television service to every region in the world. So an aircraft can fly around the world and get the same channels of live television everywhere it goes. "There will be news, and other things, butit's primarily for sports, so good times are coming."

Panasonic also has big plans for exploiting Ku-band-based connectivity to enhance its in-flight entertainment systems, which are in place on aircraft around the world.

"The seat-back IFE monitor is our primary, core business, and these devices have been wanting to communicate for many, many years. In fact, we're probably the largest user of Inmarsat [L-band satellite-supported connectivity] today. The billing goes through our airline customers, but we create all those applications that use the Inmarsat network and we've been doing that effectively. But we've been limited by the bandwidth and the cost of the network," says Bruner.

"We've done some pretty amazing things [with Inmarsat] and we're going to continue to do that. But we're also now going to take advantage of a lot more bandwidth [with Ku] and provide much more compelling applications for people sitting in their seats. Good things are coming for you in your seat-backs."

Lufthansa, which carries a mixture of different IFE systems in its fleet, tapped Panasonic to provide the IFE for its new Airbus A380s. The aircraft are expected to begin flying in June. They will ultimately be fitted with eXConnect and eXPhone.

Panasonic holds offerability status for its global communications suite on the A350. However, it has not yet gained the same status for other Airbus long-haul types.