Lufthansa re-launches in-flight high-speed Internet

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Star Alliance member Lufthansa has re-launched in-flight high-speed Internet on long-haul routes, in a move that will set the standard for airborne communications across the globe.

Under partnership with in-flight entertainment manufacturer Panasonic Avionics and service provider Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile, Lufthansa is initially rolling out its so-called FlyNet in-flight Internet on a handful of aircraft operating select North Atlantic routes, including Frankfurt-New York JFK and Frankfurt-Detroit.

By the end of January, some 20 Lufthansa aircraft will offer FlyNet. But the Ku-band satellite-based service will be available on nearly the entire Lufthansa intercontinental network by the end of 2011. The carrier says it plans to have its Airbus A380s equipped "as soon as possible".

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"High bandwidth, emails - including those with large file attachments - can be sent and received without any time delay. Business travellers can also access their company's virtual private network (VPN)," says Lufthansa, which will also start offering mobile connectivity - for text messaging and data transfer - this spring.

No voice or Skype calls will be permitted, however. "We continue to restrict the GSM technology to non-verbal. That means voice telephony is technically disabled because we got a clear message from our customers that they are seeking quietness on board and we respect this," Lufthansa vice president product management and innovations Christian Körfgen told reporters this morning in Frankfurt, just before the carrier re-launched FlyNet on an Airbus A330 flying to JFK.

Lufthansa says it will offer FlyNet for free until 31 January. Thereafter, the price for one hour's online access will be 10.95 euros or 3,500 miles, while the 24-hour flat rate is 19.95 euros or 7,000 miles.

Various billing options will be available on the T-Mobile portal, including payment via credit card, via integrated roaming partners or by redeeming 'Miles & More' award miles. Passengers are accustomed to experiencing T-Mobile in Lufthansa's lounges. With FlyNet, the "whole travel chain" is covered, notes Deutsche Telekom.

Passengers can also access news, sports and entertainment for free on the portal.

Lufthansa operated the world's first scheduled flight with broadband Internet access on 15 January 2003. The service ended at the end of 2006, however, when service provider Connexion by Boeing (CBB) shuttered operations.

In 2009 Lufthansa selected Panasonic to re-launch FlyNet on the 69 aircraft already fitted with CBB hardware and to bring the service - with new antennas - to the remainder of its long-haul fleet.

The newer generation antennas supplied by EMS, "boosts performance" and provide better efficiency and coverage, says Panasonic Avionics CEO Paul Margis.

Lufthansa is the only carrier in the world currently offering high-speed Internet on overseas flights. The carrier, meanwhile, is also studying in-flight connectivity options for its short- and medium-haul aircraft.