AirCell on Virgin by 2008

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Virgin America, which began service on August 8th, today announced that it is partnering with AirCell air-to-ground broadband internet service sometime in 2008.

The system will allow passengers to connect to the internet with the AirCell Broadband Service, using either their “Red” seatback video screens or their own wifi enabled portable gaming devices, laptops, PDAs or Smartphones. In addition to the many entertainment choices currently, passengers will be able to check and send web-email from their seatbacks through Red’s TALK — the airline’s onboard chat system — using popular instant messaging services such as MSN, Google talk, Yahoo! ® Skype, and AIM.

Virgin America says it is the first airline to announce and commit to a planned full-fleet deployment of broadband connectivity, although American Airlines will also use AirCell for in-flight wi-fi trial service over the U.S. American Airlines is the world’s largest airline.

“Equipping an entire fleet of aircraft with broadband capability is an enormous step forward for the airline industry, and more importantly for passengers. The excitement here at AirCell to see our service complement Virgin America’s Red is amazing!” said Jack Blumenstein, CEO. “Our service is designed from ground up to help airlines reach new heights and Virgin America is certainly using it for that.”

AirCell, throught the Red multimedia screens (Engadget photos), will be made available on Virgin America aircraft sometime in 2008. Virgin America is a next generation low-fare carrier that will serve as many as 10 cities within a year of operation, and up to 30 cities within five years. Virgin America’s planes offer personal in-flight entertainment system, mood-lit cabins, custom-designed leather seats and plugs for laptops and other portable electronic devices .

The AirCell approach is less complex and cheaper than any previous satellite delivered solution since it uses terrestrial celluar towers instead of satellites for the backhaul. AirCell paid $31.3 million at an FCC auction last year to take over the 800 MHz frequencies once used for (wired) air-phone service from Verizon’s Airfone. AirCell is building out its network of 80 to 100 ground towers (that point to the sky) and is talking to multiple airlines about service.

But Aircell has a weakness – cell towers aren’t available on transoceanic flights.

Meanwhile, OnAir, provides some 492Kbits/second to aircraft cabins using an Inmarsat connection. The Pacific Inmarsat (F-3) platform should be operational next year with OnAir service expected later in 2008. OnAir has secured two more Asian customers, China’s Shenzhen Airlines (pdf) and India’s Kingfisher Airlines (pdf), for its in-flight mobile phone service.

Boeing shut down their Connexion service last August and took a $320 million charge. Airlines left twisting in the wind from the dis-Connexion in-plane WiFi service included Nippon Airlines, Japan Airlines, SAS, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa. Connexion used the C and Ku band of SES Americom’s AMC-23 for Pacific and Asian coverage with Americom’s Ku band in AMC-4 and AMC-6 handling coverage over the Americas and Atlantic Ocean region. Connexion used Eutelsat over Europe.

Panasonic Aero hopes to resuscitate the service. China Southern Airlines, the 9th largest airline in the world and the largest airline in The People’s Republic of China, is the first airline in China to select the newest generation Panasonic eX2 for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Row 44 has been analyzing alternative options that include charging a subscription for wireless links or perhaps, selling passes for a few dollars that would be good on all Alaska Airlines flights for a day. Row 44 would lease satellite capacity and obtaining other technologies through Hughes Communications. Their proposed system has the ability to expand to Europe and common airline routes across the Atlantic and Pacific.

Related DailyWireless stories include; Wireless Voice on Airplanes? Yes & No, Connexion On Again?, Dis Connexion, Connexion Dying, AirFone Dead, Airplane Wireless Auction (Virtually) Over, and AirCell Demos Inflight WiFi, Lufthansa & AA Trying WiFi — Again, Connexion Press Junket.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Thursday, September 13th, 2007 at 7:50 am .

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