OnAir unconvinced about viability of Ku model for airlines

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OnAir has made known it is open to supporting in-flight mobile communications over a Ku-band link, but remains unconvinced that Ku-band connectivity is as yet a viable business model for airlines.

Using Inmarsat's L-band-based SwiftBroadband aeronautical service, OnAir currently provides voice, e-mail, text services and light Internet access to passengers on more than 20 airlines.

Yesterday the Airbus/SITA joint venture announced an agreement with German cruise operator Hapag-Lloyd Cruises to service its flagship MS Europa cruiseliner with 'Mobile OnAir' technology using an existing Ku-band satellite link.

The move will showcase the versatility of OnAir's technology in being able to use various types of satellite links.

Asked, however, if OnAir intends to offer Ku-band satellite-based connectivity to airlines now or in the future, company chief executive Benoit Debains told ATI: "It is up to the airlines to decide whether they want a Ku-band satellite link.

"Under our agreement with Hapag-Lloyd we use their existing antenna in which we plug our connectivity solution. Again, it is up to the airline to decide whether to install a Ku antenna in addition to the SwiftBroadband capacity delivered by the antenna they need for cockpit traffic, but so far, no other airlines but Lufthansa (who are using their existing investment) have made that decision."

Lufthansa recently inked an agreement with Panasonic Avionics to reignite its Connexion by Boeing in-flight Internet service, which was operated over a Ku-band link, but shut off by the US airframer at the end of 2006. Mobile connectivity service will be provided to Lufthansa by Panasonic partner - and OnAir rival - AeroMobile.

Emirates, meanwhile, is equipping its entire fleet with AeroMobile's mobile connectivity service supported by the existing Inmarsat "Classic" Aero and Swift64 satcoms. But the Middle Eastern carrier has said it is exploring the possibility of offering high-speed Internet connectivity over Ku-band satellites.

Since airlines will need to invest in two antennas if they want Ku-band connectivity, the business model "looks a lot more challenging than one single antenna", according to Debains.

Siemens IT Solutions and Services, as OnAir's technological partner, will supply, install and maintain the software and hardware supporting OnAir's technology on MS Europa. The first Mobile OnAir-equipped cruise will launch during the first quarter of this year.