In-flight broadband set to return in 2009

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High-speed Internet access will be returning to aircraft next year through a new service being offered by Panasonic.

ExConnect should be available in early 2009 and will be the first intercontinental, high-speed Internet service available on aircraft since 2006, when Boeing’s Connexion service was shutdown due to mounting losses.

Like the Boeing service, Panasonic’s ExConnect will offer speeds comparable to public Internet hot-spots and also allow airlines to feed live television into the aircraft’s in-flight entertainment system. Pricing is yet to be finalized but Panasonic is looking at around $12 per hour or $22 per day, which is also close to the pricing of the defunct Connexion service.

Panasonic said airline customers have already signed up for the service but their identities were not disclosed.

ExConnect will work off the back of the GlobalConnex satellite broadband service that is offered by Intelsat and currently used by corporate clients and telecom operators. The service to aircraft will initially be introduced in targeted regions of the globe and expanded with demand, said Panasonic.

While best known as a consumer electronics company, the company is a major player in the in-flight entertainment market through its U.S. subsidiary Panasonic Avionics. Its entertainment systems can be found on more than 3,700 aircraft.

In-flight Internet was first launched in mid-2004 when Lufthansa began rolling out the service on its long-haul jets. Many major Asian and European airlines followed with the service but the big U.S. airlines, still reeling at the time from the chaos brought on by the 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., never signed on to the service. In the end Boeing decided to close Connexion before it took off.

Panasonic is promoting broadband as one of three new services for in-flight use. ExTV will deliver live television and ExPhone will offer cellular telephone service through a small cellular base station onboard the aircraft.

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