Airbus/SITA inflight communications joint venture OnAir announced on the eve of the show a breakthrough in the adoption of onboard connectivity.

From next month, Iberia of Spain will roll out a full email and instant messaging (IM) offering based on Inmarsat's Swift64, becoming the first air transport operator in the world to put the 64kbit/sec capability into fleetwide commercial service.

The Spanish carrier currently offers Inmarsat Classic-based inflight text messaging and short email services to passengers in the new Business Plus class on its Airbus A340-300s and -600s.

OnAir services are also available on Asiana Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, KLM, Lauda Italy, Malaysia Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines, Qantas and Virgin Atlantic.

"When we were evaluating systems to support the new service, we considered the amount of bandwidth that we needed, as well as the costs and risks associated with the chosen solution," says Esteban Sanchez, Iberia manager of innovation and customer services development.

"The megabytes offered by other providers are fantastic, but we frankly didn't know what to do with them. Swift64, by comparison, offered us plenty of bandwidth for what we knew we wanted - a real-time data channel for instant messaging, full email with attachments, and VPN access. And it was cheaper and less risky."

Factors minimising Swift64 risks included the extensive reuse of existing Inmarsat onboard equipment - Rockwell Collins's SAT-906 terminal, with the addition of two HST-900 Swift64 units per aircraft - and a consequent lower investment.

Iberia was also attracted by Inmarsat's worldwide open standard; the ability to start with bandwidth appropriate to the services being demanded by passengers, with provision for an easy upgrade to the 432kbit/sec SwiftBroadband as needed for new applications; and the Inmarsat system's provision for switching capacity dynamically among spot-beams to accommodate demand peaks.

The airline is already evaluating the 432kbit/sec SwiftBroadband, with a view to offering onboard GSM and GPRS cellphone service and Internet access via a cabin wireless network.

"We will adopt Swift-Broadband as soon as it is available because we have a number of new applications in mind," says Sanchez.

Giving two-way access to corporate VPNs and public Webmail services such as AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo, it will be introduced on 30 aircraft on 1 July, with the rest of the long-haul fleet to follow as soon as possible.



Source: Flight Daily News