Boeing Connexion, a Boeing subsidiary were the first providers of Wi-Fi on planes in May 2004 with Lufthansa where charges started at US$10 for a half hour and US30 for a full flight.
This came to an end when Boeing pulled the plug end December 2006 - the heavy phased array antenna required for satellite tracking (at US$ 1/2 Mn per plane) proved to be a fuel hog, and revenues were tiny, although the service is still available on US Government planes under a US$53 Mn. contract.
A report from the Forrester group this month shows that US airline leisure passengers who want in-flight Internet access are equally split amongst men and women, have an average age of 42, an average household of nearly UK $100,000 per year, and they’re extremely well educated, with almost 60% with college degrees and 70% are members of airline loyalty programs.
That's a prime audience which the airlines want on board.
Now several airlines are trying to make inroads into that lucrative market by using / offering / promising wi-fi over land routes using cellular technology - satellites providing a service over oceans adds 600 milliseconds time delays -- the time for the signal to travel 23,000 miles to the satellite - which presents all sorts of problems with associated costs, as Connexion found out.
On December 11, 2007, JetBlue Airways operated the first commercial US airline flight (JFK-SFO) with highspeed in-flight email access in partnership with Yahoo and Canadian based Research in Motion Ltd - a limited but free service restricted to Wi-Fi enabled smartphones (no telephony though) , BlackBerries (12 Mn. users worldwide) and laptops to connect to work, friends and family via Yahoo!(R) Mail, Yahoo!(R) Messenger and BlackBerry e-mail and BlackBerry(R) Messenger services.
Continental have also announced the same limited service and also announced that real soon now (try January 2009 !) they will have LiveTV, with 36 channels of live, inflight satellite-based television programming provided by DIRECTV(R), the nation's leading satellite television provider, at every seat on Continental's new generation aircraft on US flights only.
Now passengers on American Airlines trans continental Boeing 767's will soon be able to surf the web at 34,000 feet when Aircell installations (at US$100,000 per aircraft) get FAA approval - remember passengers still won't be able to use portable electronics until the plane reaches 10,000 feet, which is an FAA ruling / restriction.
AirCell will offering broadband access using their EV-DO cellular technology operating in the 3Hz of ATG spectrum that AirCell won at auction in 2006. Passengers can expect to payUS$9.95 for WiFi access to the service on flights > 3 hours and US$12.95 on longer trips. AirCell is also looking into day passes and monthly and annual subscriptions.
That means passengers can surf the Internet using personal Wi-Fi devices including laptops, 802.11 a/b/g -equipped devices, and mobile handheld devices, so they can surf the web, check e-mail, send attachments, and log into their office network.
BUT .... VoIP and other bandwidth-hungry applications would be blocked in order to assure an ADSL-like experience for all users say American....and to eliminate any problems of passenger rage by noisy users of crap VOIP signals.
AirCell is also working with San Francisco's hometown airline, Virgin America, (getting there is half the fun?) which has committed to implementing the service fleetwide this year ..... ? Virgin who started service in August 2007 will offer not only wireless to passenger devices but also through the Panasonic in-seat IFE system aboard its brand new Airbus A320-family of aircraft - each seat of which is already equipped with a power point for lap tops and other portable devices. Virgin were 3 years in gestation folowing a lot of problems over foreign ownership , Airline Pilots and other US domestic airlines - they lost US$35Mn. in their 1st Qtr.
We all wonder what Mr O'Leary and the other Neanderthals at Ryanair thinks of this terrific idea for making passengers happy. UPDATE : Ooooops Ryanair have in fact announced plans for a joint venture with OnAir (a joint venture Airbus and SITA.)to install the system on its entire fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft beginning mid-2007.
"Ryanair's passengers will be able to call, text and email using their mobile phones, BlackBerrys and Treos at rates which will mirror international roaming charges," the airline said... er .. in August ...er....2006.