Singapore launches inflight IP access

From: Rohit Khare (
Date: Wed Apr 25 2001 - 13:36:50 PDT

[That's nothing -- Phillip Hallam-Baker and I had a web *server* going at
35,000 feet after the Debember 1995 IETF in Dallas :-) -- still , this looks
to be MUCH cheaper than $10/minute satellite voice calls and modem lines.

April 25, 2001 Business Travel: Singapore Airlines Introduces In-Flight E-Mail By JOE SHARKEY For over a year, airlines have been fiddling around with technology and
fretting about when and how they're going to introduce in-flight e-mail and
Internet capability on their airplanes. But now it's off to the races for these services, which industry surveys
show that business travelers put first on wish lists of technological
amenities they want on board. On Sunday, from over the Pacific, on a flight
to Los Angeles, Singapore Airlines dispatched an e-mail announcement to
dozens of reporters, gleefully claiming bragging rights as the first airline
to provide passengers with the capability to plug their laptops into in-seat
telephone ports to send and receive e-mail and browse about 30 Web sites. "There's always an enormous amount of pressure because the time line for
products to cycle and competitors to reach parity is getting shorter and
shorter," said James Boyd, a spokesman for the airline. "There's a desire on
the Singapore side to be first, because we've always led the market with
in-flight entertainment offerings. So being first with in-flight e-mail on a
global scale is certainly important to us." After testing the new system for six weeks on a Boeing 747 on the
Singapore-Los Angeles route, the airline decided to officially take it live
months before competitors like Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific, which are
outfitting their aircraft with the same technology this year. "We decided it was good enough, so we officially launched it" on Sunday,
said Teng Kwong Yeoh, the senior manager of in-flight services and
entertainment for Singapore Airlines. Over the next 12 to 14 months, he
said, the airline will spend more than $100 million to equip 55 other 747's
and 777's with the service, which is supplied by Tenzing Communications, a
two-year-old Seattle- based company that is also providing similar
satellite-based air-ground systems to other airlines. Though it ballyhooed being the first, Singapore Airlines concedes that the
service is still somewhat limited. For one thing, it's only available right
now on a single aircraft on the Singapore-Los Angeles route. On that plane,
only 24 passengers at a time can be online with their laptops. "On board we have a system that allows for 30 telephone lines," said Dr.
Yeoh, who sent e-mail himself from the flight on Sunday. "We reserve 6 lines
for telephones, making available 24 for e-mail. If you have 24 simultaneous
users, then the 25th will have to wait for a line." As to data speed, "within the cabin, we managed to get up to 33.6 kilobytes
per second," Dr. Yeoh said. "For e-mail and Web service, it was a
comfortable speed. It was O.K. I didn't feel inconvenienced." The system is available in all three passenger cabins through telephone
ports at every seat. However, Dr. Yeoh said, "we noticed that mostly first-
and business-class passengers availed themselves of it." The basic e-mail and Web-browsing services will be free until more planes
are equipped and a billing system is put in place by about October, he said.
Until then, to avoid jamming the server, passengers are limited to 60
kilobytes of outgoing and the same amount of incoming e- mail. Ultimately, he said, "the price will be very much like what an I.S.P.
charges on the ground," for passengers who sign up for personal or corporate
accounts, with monthly billing. Per-flight and per-use billing - at about $1
for an e-mail of about 50 words - is also being considered, he said. Within
a year to 14 months, Singapore Airlines expects to have 55 more planes
equipped with the service, which Dr. Yeoh said he expected would then be
operating at data- transmission speeds in excess of 64 kilobytes. The relatively slow narrow band speeds currently available are a major issue
for many airlines. Boeing, Rockwell International and other industry giants
are currently developing systems offering high-speed connections; many
airlines say they are waiting for the newer broadband technology to become
available before outfitting their fleets. Right now, Dr. Yeoh said of the Singapore Airlines system, "this is probably
the best solution" despite its current limitations. "A supplier can give us
this solution now, albeit a narrow band one, but with a painless migration
path toward a broadband or a wider band tie, and we can bring the benefits
to our customers immediately." Competitors who have signed on with the Tenzing system sounded like
reasonably good sports about Singapore Airlines' coup. "We started to work on this ourselves over a year ago," said Mary Jersin, a
spokeswoman for Cathay Pacific, which plans to introduce its version of the
Tenzing e-mail and Web service by late summer, probably on flights from
London to Hong Kong, with flights from United States destinations coming
later. "Like any other craze, like beds in premium cabins, once one airline starts
to do it the others jump in," she said. Virgin Atlantic, never a shrinking violet when it comes to publicity about
in-flight amenities, announced with great fanfare last month that it was
outfitting its planes for e-mail and Web service - by the end of this year. "We think the competition is good," said Sharon Pomerantz, a spokeswoman for
Virgin, in which Singapore Airlines has a minority stake. "Of course, they may have it in the air sooner, but when we come out, we'll
be coming out with all the bells and whistles, and we'll have it for every
passenger on board, along with a new in-flight entertainment system with 200
hours of DVD quality video on demand," she added. "And when you send an
e-mail from a Virgin flight, your message will show up at its destination
with this address: "What other carrier is going to be as imaginative as that?"

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