More Airlines Add Wi-Fi

By Naomi Graychase

October 15, 2009

Wi-Fi in the air continues its upward trajectory as both commercial and business aviation companies strive to meet high customer demand.

Lufthansa and Dassault Falcon add Wi-Fi—JiWire adds ads


German airline Lufthansa announced Monday that it would re-launch its in-flight Wi-Fi service, FlyNet.

Wolfgang Mayrhuber, Chairman of the Executive Board and CEO of Deutsche Lufthansa AG said in a statement at the Lufthansa Web site, “With the FlyNet re-launch, we are taking the lead in in-flight connectivity.”

With the re-launch, Lufthansa isn’t so much setting the pace as joining the pack. Many commercial airlines in the United States began offering limited Wi-Fi service last year. Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines, AirTran Airways, and Virgin America are among those that have partnered with Gogo (Aircell). Other airlines, such as Southwest, are opting for Row 44, a satellite provider of in-flight wireless Internet.

Other international carriers have also gotten on board the Wi-Fi plane. Dublin-based Ryanair, for example, offers wireless e-mail, SMS, and even VoIP calling on some of its flights. The service is provided by OnAir, a Swiss provider. Air France-KLM and Australian carrier Qantas have also beta-tested in-flight Wi-Fi.

Private carriers are also seeing Wi-Fi as a must-have amenity for business travelers. Dassault Falcon, a subsidiary of France-based Dassault Aviation, has taken the lead and expects to be the first business aircraft manufacturer to offer deployment of the Aircell system on its full fleet of business jets.

Not branded “Gogo” in business aircraft deployments, the Aircell Wi-Fi service that will be an option for Dassault Falcon jet owner/operators is branded “Aircell High Speed Internet.” The system utilizes the Aircell 3G air-to-ground cellular network for in-flight Wi-Fi while aircraft are flying over the continental U.S.

Announced in September, the exclusive agreement between Aircell and Dassault will enable Falcon jet passengers and crews to use Wi-Fi-enabled devices, such as laptops, iPod touches, and smartphones while in the air—but only via the Aircell system. Aircell is promising “full mobile broadband speeds” in-flight.

While some commercial flights limit the applications or the devices that can be used on-board, Falcon jet owner operators will have the freedom to use their Aircell systems as they please, including full Web access and access to corporate VPNs. Ownership has its privileges.

Aircell also has a satellite-based service for use over oceans and for international use called SwiftBroadband.

According to Eric Monsel, Vice President, Programs, Dassault Falcon, the demand for in-flight wireless Internet access among Falcon jet clients is great. "In this day and age, it's seldom we talk to customers without discussing what in-flight connectivity options are available. People want to be as fully connected aboard their aircraft as they are in their office,” he said in a press release.

Demand from commercial air travelers is equally high. One study showed that business travelers would rather be given Wi-Fi than food when on an airplane. Another indicated that more than three-quarters of business travelers would choose an airline based on Wi-Fi availability. The first Aircell-equipped Falcon jet aircraft is scheduled for customer delivery in 4Q10.

 

Funding models

While each owner of a Falcon jet can decide for herself whether to pay for the upgrade to in-flight Wi-Fi on her aircraft, commercial airlines are still sorting out their individual pricing structures. Studies, not surprisingly, show that free Wi-Fi is very popular in-flight and, as prices go up, usage goes down. Currently, prices tend to run in the $5.95-$12.95 range, depending on the duration of the flight, although price-conscious Southwest Airlines has tested price points as low as $2.

One new model includes advertising. JiWire recently announced a partnership with Row 44 that will allow advertisers to place interactive ads on Row 44’s in-flight login page, “Skytown,” which is free for travelers to access. In addition to ads, the Skytown portal also provides links to free content, including video games, SkyMall shopping, and travel information.

dassault_7X.jpg

Image courtesy of Dassault Falcon.

Row 44’s aircraft-based hotspots will become part of JiWire’s network of free and fee-based public hotspots. The match between Row 44 and JiWire is a solid one: JiWire’s 30,000 or so hotspots are traveler-centric, mostly located in hotels, airports, and cafés. JiWire sells advertising to clients wishing to reach the (hopefully) captive and affluent audiences commonly found using these hotspots.

Row 44 lags behind Aircell in its domestic deployments, but it has nabbed Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines, which have already equipped some of their aircraft with Row 44’s satellite broadband Internet access system.

“By partnering with Row 44, we can offer advertisers an opportunity to engage a captive audience at the on-ramp to the Internet throughout the lifecycle of a traveler—reaching a person in the hotel, in the airport, in the executive lounge and, now, in the air,” said Kevin McKenzie, founder and CEO of JiWire in a press release October 5th. “Having built the leading Wi-Fi media channel for effectively engaging on-the-go audiences, we are very excited to now be expanding our platform to the skies on both laptops and Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices, such as the iPhone.”

The JiWire/Row 44 service is expected to launch this fall.

 Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet. She has never flown on a private jet nor on a commercial flight that offered Wi-Fi--but she remains hopeful on both accounts.



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