A clearer picture of what in-flight connectivity services will be offered to Qantas passengers emerged this week with the revelation that the carrier's Airbus A380s are being equipped with OnAir's Internet service, while some of its domestic aircraft will offer AeroMobile's technology for mobile phones and other handheld devices.
When Qantas' first A380 enters commercial service between Melbourne, Australia and Los Angeles, California on 20 October, passengers throughout the 450-seat aircraft will be able to use their seat-back in-flight entertainment screen, or their own laptops, to access Airbus/SITA partnership OnAir's webmail and webchat services, which will harness Inmarsat's Swift64 satellite service.
This offering will be upgraded to include full live Internet connectivity - dubbed Internet OnAir - as soon as Inmarsat's higher-bandwidth SwiftBroadband satellite service is available in the Pacific region, and the satcom avionics for the A380 are available, which is expected later in 2009.
There has been some industry scepticism about whether SwiftBroadband will be able to support full-blown Internet connectivity.
But OnAir CEO Benoit Debains is confident that once the full service is up and running, passengers will be able to access the Internet "in exactly the same way as they can on the ground".
He notes that Internet OnAir will permit content filtering. "Airlines know their passengers the best, and are expert at managing the cabin environment, so the extent to which the filtering is used is entirely up to the airline."
Other customers for Internet OnAir include Air Asia X and Kingfisher Airlines.
Utilizing the SwiftBroadband satellite network, OnAir also offers a GSM/GPRS service called Mobile OnAir that has already been trialled by Air France, and secured a growing list of trial and fully committed customers. Oneworld carrier Royal Jordanian last year signed up to offer OnAir's full suite of connectivity options on its Airbus A340s.
Qantas, however, while opting to offer the Internet Onair service on its A380s has decided to roll out AeroMobile's in-flight mobile service on domestic aircraft in the coming months, following a successful nine-month trial that ended in January.
The arrangement between Qantas and AeroMobile will see the Arinc/Telenor joint venture's technology installed on a number of domestic Boeing 767-300s and Airbus A330-200s.
"Customers wanting to send or receive an SMS will require only a GSM phone and a global roaming account, while customers wanting to send or receive emails will need a GPRS enabled device like a Blackberry or an appropriately equipped laptop," says AeroMobile chief executive Bjorn-Taale Sandberg.
Thus far, AeroMobile's technology has been supported by the existing Inmarsat "Classic" Aero and Swift64 satcoms. For the domestic fleet deployment, Qantas aircraft will be installed with SwiftBroadband to link the aircraft to the ground, says AeroMobile.
The aircraft will operate on varied routes throughout Australia and to New Zealand.
Separately, an in-flight Internet offering developed to take advantage of SwiftBroadband - and compete with Internet OnAir - is expected to be fully completed by Arinc in November.
Dubbed Oi for Onboard Internet, Arinc's latest solution for passenger communication services uses a combination of cached and live content and data to offer news, sports, radio bulletins, web browsing, email, instant messenger, podcasts and VPN access.
The most trafficked Internet sites will be offered. However airlines will be able to configure the offering to meet their own individual requirements, says Colette Parks, satellite applications programme director, aviation solutions for Arinc.