Airlines will be able to offer internet television to passengers in seat-back monitors by mid 2006, Connexion by Boeing said in a meeting with reporters.
The technology could provide on-demand movies and live television broadcasts in mid-air. It will be up to individual airlines to decide how much to charge for the service.
Internet television will debut with four channels on Singapore Airlines this year, but programmes will be available only on laptop computers equipped with Windows Media Player 9.
To get the signal to the seat-back TV monitors, the airline would have to hook-up the internet connection to the plane's entertainment system and transform the internet signal to a digital one.
Connexion by Boeing is best known for providing Wi-Fi internet access to aircraft passengers. The company has signed contracts with 12 carriers, including Lufthansa, SAS and Austrian Airlines, and 72 long haul aircraft carry the required equipment.
The technology uses several Wi-Fi access points inside the aircraft to create a wireless network, and the signal is transmitted back to earth via satellite. The service currently offers speeds of up to 4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream for all users combined, but these will be increased as user adoption grows.
Increasing adoption by airlines is one of the service's major obstacles, according to Laurette Koellner, president of Connexion by Boeing. "Some airlines don't feel that they need to be the leader," she said.
Airlines have also been burnt in the past by the false promise of making money from passengers placing $10 per minute for satellite telephone calls.
"Airlines have been promised a lot in the past, and they want to make sure that this service is as advertised," said Koellner.
US carriers have been hesitant to invest into the technology as many of them are facing financial difficulties.
Passengers pay a fee of up to $29.95 for the Wi-Fi service, depending on the flight time. Connexion by Boeing has signed bulk contracts with 600 corporate clients to provide discounted service to their employees.
In addition to internet television, the firm recently started allowing airlines to deploy the connections for operational use. The carrier can send sensor data back to the ground about the airplane's performance to allow maintenance to spot problems earlier.
It also could allow the cabin crew to update or rebook flight schedules for passengers facing delays, or to keep track of the stock of duty free items.
Connexion by Boeing could also start offering mobile phone services by 2006, provided that use of mobile phones in the air clears regulatory hurdles.
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