Panasonic plans to launch its eXconnect Ku-band satellite passenger connectivity service later this year and says it has an initial customer base of five airlines.

Speaking at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, the company's vice-president for global communication services David Bruder said: "All five have also opted for the eXphone on-board mobile phone service offered by AeroMobile. Two of them are from Europe, two from Asia and one from Africa."

Announced three years ago, the new Panasonic service will be rolled out initially on the North Atlantic, with Asia and South America, the South Pacific and Africa following a few months later.

The launch will come at least 12 months later than originally planned, following a protracted antenna selection process. "The antenna has been the biggest challenge," Bruner admits. "It was difficult to find one that worked everywhere in the world. But now we have a system from EMS Technologies/Starling in test at our own facility and it's proving to be very good."

Panasonic is promising generous data bandwidth to and from the aircraft - 30-50Mbit/s from the satellite, 1.5Mbit/s in the opposite direction. The company faces a number of key milestones in the next few months. It needs the regulatory approval of each of the countries that will be overflown by eXconnect-equipped aircraft. "So far we have about 100 national approvals," says Bruner.

Source: Flight International