The world's first inflight mobile phone service could be a reality by mid-2006, thanks to a new company being formed by Airbus, SITA and Tenzing Communications.
The partners, who announced the creation of their as-yet-unnamed venture at Farnborough yesterday, expect to announce their launch customers as soon as their venture has been formed.
The trio plan to unveil the company at the World Airline Entertainment Association show in Seattle in September.
It will offer a full portfolio of passenger comms services, including Internet and corporate network access, email, instant messaging, SMS and conventional in-seat telephony.
SITA will have the majority shareholding in the company, with a stake in the 60% range. The venture will absorb the existing business of Tenzing, the SITA in-flight passenger communications division, and SITA's R&D activity in this area.
The partners already have dozens of airline customers for their Inmarsat-supported email/SMS and inflight phone services.
The cellphone service offering is due to be certificated in the third quarter of next year and to be commercially available from mid-2006, when a European airline is likely to be the first to offer it, SITA INC (Information Networking Computing) managing director Francesco Violante said.
Airbus and SITA had been working on the technology needed to offer onboard mobile phone usage for around 18 months, said Violante. Discussions with airlines to establish their requirements had shown that they wanted voice and data services on both long and short-haul aircraft from all the major manufacturers.
They also wanted to be able to choose an appropriate level of service to match their individual requirements, and to pay a reasonable price for installation and service.
The partners are aiming to satisfy all of these requirements. Patrick Gavin, EVP customer services at Airbus, said the system is designed to work through existing satellite communications systems already installed on long-haul aircraft. The main installation work, performed over three nights when an aircraft is not in service, will involve the fitting of new avionics.
Passengers will be able to use their own portable devices with the service and will be billed through their usual mobile phone operators and Internet service providers. Typical international roaming rates will apply to the cellphone service.
The new company will compete with a similar venture by ARINC, SITA's arch-rival. Along with partners Telenor Satellite Services and Telenor Mobile, the other leading airline IT/communications provider has plans to launch a service for GSM users in the next 12-18 months.
Revealing the joint venture's plans at last month's Inmarsat Aero conference in Montreal, ARINC's John Little promised "an end-to-end solution addressing the regulatory and certification issues" arising from current worries about interference with aircraft systems and cellular networks on the ground.
MARK PILLING & BRENDAN GALLAGHER
Source: Flight Daily News