Super-fast 50Mbit inflight Internet one step closer

By danwarne, October 29 2010
Super-fast 50Mbit inflight Internet one step closer

It's twice as fast as your home broadband connection, and it's coming to a jet near you!

Boeing has completed certification of the Panasonic Avionics eXConnect inflight broadband system on one of its Boeing Business Jets.

The system, which Australian Business Traveller recently wrote about in What you need to know about inflight broadband, delivers speeds of 50Mbit/s – double the speed of an ADSL2+ line – in both download and upload directions.

It partners a microwave connection to a satellite with a large fuselage-mounted antenna which achieves better speeds than tail-mounted antennas typically used on jets.

Although Boeing Business Jets are luxury jets for the corporate market, seating 25-50 people (depending on how big a chair the chairman of the board requires), they're actually standard 737s as flown by Qantas, Virgin Blue and almost every other domestic airline worldwide.

The RAAF leases two Boeing Business Jets for transport of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and other VIP government dignitaries, both within Australia and abroad.

According to Panasonic Avionics, eXConnect uses "Ku aeronautical mobile satellite band antenna technology for a true global broadband experience—transferring data to and from your aircraft over land and over water—to provide greater coverage and better transfer rates than ground-to-air based systems. The system also operates over the narrow L-band to host mobile phone connectivity."

The eXConnect system is also expected to be more appealing to airlines than the stillborn Boeing Connexion system was, due to its much lighter weight per aircraft.

Boeing's $1billion Connexion system had to be shut down after low interest from airlines due to the heavy weight of the equipment and expensive plane retrofit required.

Panasonic claims eXConnect maintains service quality all over the world, "unlike other systems that rely only on non-Ku band communications."

Although Qantas has fitted its A380s with Panasonic Avionics inflight entertainment systems, the menu options on the seatback screens specifically refer to Airbus/SITA's OnAir system as Qantas' internet partner. OnAir provides a dramatically slower connection to the plane – only 432Kbit/s – less than a hundredth of the maximum speed of the Panasonic eXConnect system.

Given Qantas has not yet switched on its inflight internet service, and with the certification of Panasonic eXConnect, it's possible the carrier is reexamining its options.

Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific are the first airlines to announce that they will be offering the 50Mbit/s inflight broadband via eXConnect, though neither have activated the service in their fleet yet.

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