Boeing to Put Net in the Air

WASHINGTON (04/27/2000) - Airlines used to be a little uneasy about PCs and other portable electronic devices when passengers brought them on board flights, and flight attendants still tell passengers to switch them off during takeoff and landing.

But the Boeing Co. now says the time has come to invite people to log on while they're airborne because books, newspapers, magazines and movies just aren't supplying enough in-flight entertainment to the ever-connected flying public.

The Seattle-based aerospace corporation today announced "Connexions by Boeing," a service that it will sell to airlines, which will make it possible for them to offer passengers high-speed data communication services via satellite onboard almost any flight.

Passengers will be able to plug their PCs into the system at their seats and surf the 'net, send and receive e-mail messages and access their corporate intranets for a fee that Erik Simonsen, a spokesman for Boeing, said would be about the same as the air-time charges people pay for their cellular phones.

Eventually, Boeing plans to make Internet-enabled devices available on the backs of seats for people who don't carry PCs, Simonsen said.

In addition to the pay Internet service, a free package of information and entertainment will be available, including a selection of "real-time" television programming, as opposed to the taped TV programs now played on some long flights. So far, two networks, CNN Inflight Services and CNBC, have signed up to provide programming, but other networks can sign on, said Ric Vandermeulen, director of strategy and planning for Connexions by Boeing.

The free service also will offer information about on-board shopping, travel and the flight's destination.

The technology Boeing developed to support the system includes a phased array antenna that is mounted on top the aircraft's fusilage. The antenna, which is less than 2 inches high, 44 inches wide and 55 inches long (5.08 by 111.76 by 139.7 centimeters), is fixed and doesn't interfere with the aerodynamics of the plane or its own communications systems, Simonsen said.

Electronic modules inside the antenna move to maintain the connection to satellites at a maximum transmission speed of 5M bits for downloading data and 1.5M bit for uploading it. However, speed slows as more users log on.

The system will be available to commercial airlines operating in the continental U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2001. Boeing aims to expand the service to other regions and include trans-oceanic flights. From the start, the system will be available throughout the cabin, not just to first class and business class, Simonsen said, but he didn't know whether passengers still will be required to turn it off during takeoff and landing.

Boeing, in Seattle, Washington, can be contacted at +1-206-655-1131, or at http://www.boeing.com/.

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