American, GetThere.com launch wireless offerings

Computerworld |  Networking

The airborne movement in travel information technology soared higher yesterday as GetThere.com and American Airlines announced new wireless initiatives.

Menlo Park, Calif.-based GetThere unveiled a wireless flight-monitoring service in conjunction with Bell Mobility Inc. in Toronto, GTE Corp. in Irving, Texas, and Sprint PCS Group in Kansas City. Users will be able to make changes to flight plans, access itineraries and receive status alerts via Web-enabled phones.

Fort Worth, Texas-based American signed a deal with MobileStar Network Corp. in Richardson, Texas, that will allow the airline's preferred business travelers to get wireless Internet access for their laptop computers.

The access will be offered at 49 American Admiral's Clubs through a wireless LAN that supports both frequency-hopping and direct-sequence standards.

GetThere Chief Technical Officer and co-founder Dan Whaley said wireless is proving to be an engine driving the entire electronic information industry.

"Everything's being built around convenience," he said.

GetThere's network has been designed for postreservation services, but Whaley envisions simple booking procedures to become standard wireless fare over the next two years.

GetThere provides corporate travel networks for many major companies, and employees will now be able to access those networks using their wireless Web phones.

Whaley stressed that to make such a service work, companies must strike deals with major wireless providers and target the product to tiny wireless screens.

"You have to have your application highly placed on the menu choices," he said. "It's hard to punch in a (Web address), and you don't want people to have to push too many buttons."

GetThere's system runs on an HTML standard, and the company is planning to build wireless applications for the European WML standard over the next year, Whaley said.

MobileStar Chief Operating Officer Larry Cain said his company hopes to expand its wireless modem links to gate areas in the near future in addition to the current plans for American Admiral's Clubs.

The wireless LANs can process 1.2M to 1.6M bit/sec., according to Cain.

"This isn't a dial-up link, we're running at T1 speeds," he said.

American plans to launch the program before year's end.

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