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Surfing the Internet at 30,000 Feet

Checking your e-mail and surfing the Web while you fly has finally taken off. Internet Travel News caught up with Scott Carson, President of Connexion by Boeing
, to find out the latest developments in wireless inflight technology for the jet-setting business traveller.

ITN. Will Connexion by Boeing be attending ITB? If so will you be launching any new products?

SC. Prior to the upcoming full-scale commercial launch of the Connexion by Boeing service on-board Lufthansa in April this year, we will be attending ITB Berlin
and will also be co-sponsoring the media reception with Boeing Commercial Airplanes group.
ITN. How did Connexion by Boeing survive after so many companies ‘pulled out’ following 9/11 attacks?

SC. Following the unfortunate events of 9/11, Connexion by Boeing continued to work closely with both domestic and international airlines in what we call “Connexion Working Together.” We also turned to the international market, continued to be fiscally responsible in our expenditures and keenly focused in our business objectives and strategies going forward. Thus we developed both consumer and airline applications which will enhance the passenger experience in the air and will deliver operational efficiencies to the airline operators.
ITN. Have any of the original U.S. based carriers signed back on to add the service to their planes?

SC. Over the last six months we have seen a shift in the interest of US carriers in in-flight connectivity as they move from a survival to decision-making mode. We continue to work very closely with them and expect our efforts to bear fruit in the not-so-distant future.
ITN. With the delay of the promised launch date of Connexion, following 9/11 attacks, has the product offering itself been developed further or enhanced?

SC. We have timed the introduction of our service with what the market is ready and willing to accept. However, as a result of circumstances beyond our control (9/11, SARS, etc.) we have had an opportunity to further refine our service offering and enhance its robustness since our initial intentions, through improved passenger knowledge, technological advancements and regulatory achievements.
ITN. Tenzing, an inflight communications software provider, offers a competitive rate at $10 to $20 per flight, for wireless internet connection, compared to $35 for Connexion. What additional benefits do you offer to consumers that justify these additional costs?

SC. We don’t believe that price is a definition for quality of service. For the expected fee of not more than $30 per long-haul flight (6+hours) we will offer passengers full access to the entire Internet, as well as their firewall-protected corporate VPNs - something that has not been available before. In addition, our system offers airlines a myriad of operational efficiency enhancements with which they can reduce cost and increase their customer service.
ITN. Do you only install your service on Boeing aircraft or do you also equip other aircraft with this service for example Airbus and Lear jet?

SC. Our system is platform-neutral and will be installed on both Airbus and Boeing aircraft for commercial services. It is currently installed on a few private jets, which are operational in the US.
ITN. Should travellers using the service expect to experience any downtime? Will the service be as efficient as land-based systems?

SC. Our intent is to provide a seamless experience, as efficient as land-based systems, however they are always unpredictable acts of nature that might affect both systems…
ITN. How many megabits per second of downstream bandwidth will the service offer? How many users can it support at a time? What will be the download capacity for travellers?

SC. Our systems will provide a speed of up to 20Mbps to the aircraft over four channels, and up to 1Mbps from the aircraft, shared among all users. There is no limit to the number of user who will be able to use our system on-board. By leasing transponders on commercially-available satellites we’ll be able to scale our system to satisfy the demand for our service.
ITN. Having deployed your services throughout entire aircrafts, are you finding the service to be popular on economy class?

SC. We have been working with our airline customers to offer both a wired and a wireless (WLAN) network onboard and the WLAN will allow all passengers to use the system regardless of which class of cabin service they are travelling in. We’re launching commercial service in April 2004.
ITN. With more and more business travellers opting to fly on low cost carriers, do you ever think there will be a market for you in this sector?

SC. The popularity of low-cast airlines has captured our attention and we continue to explore opportunities for addressing this market, such as developing a service-offering for short flights, known as “Connexion Lite.”
ITN. What can we expect to see in the world of inflight technology during the next 5 years?

SC. As our service rolls out and becomes ubiquitous, the airlines will find more creative ways to use the bandwidth, e.g. passenger rebooking, cashless cabin, telemedicine, to name just a few.
ITN. Can you tell me a little about your ventures into the maritime industry?

SC. We continue to keep an eye on applications with sound business sense, and offering the service to the maritime market was a natural extension of our airline offering.
ITN. How do you plan to stay ahead of the game in 2004?

SC. We’ll continue to listen to our customers and their passengers and ensure the services we provide add value to both.
ITN. Are you optimistic about the financial outlook in the travel industry for 2004?

SC. We remain cautiously optimistic that things will continue to improve in the airline industry and passenger numbers will be growing.