In-flight satellite Internet service nearing launch –

U.K. satellite communications company Inmarsat Ltd. has made its in-flight Internet access service available to the corporate jet market and expects to do the same for commercial airlines by the end of the year.

London-based Inmarsat will first roll out its Swift64 service with ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) Internet access, which it expects to be fully operational on corporate aircraft within a few months, the company said in a statement Tuesday. The ISDN access will have maximum speeds of 64K bps (bits per second) and will use its satellite communication antenna infrastructure, Inmarsat said.

Swift64 will allow users to access Internet-based applications such as e-mail, video streaming and file transfer while in flight and the service will also be offered to maritime customers as Inmarsat Fleet F77 beginning this week, Inmarsat said.

Aircraft that are already fitted with antennas need to equip their planes with networks and ports into which travellers can plug in their laptops to make the service operable, Inmarsat said. According to the company, up to 80 percent of modern long-haul commercial aircraft and over 1,000 corporate jets already have antennas installed.

Servers for e-mail connections will be placed onboard the aircraft and users will be able to connect to the Swift64 service over their laptop computers using an Ethernet LAN connection, Inmarsat said.

Inmarsat will be competing against such companies as Tenzing Communications Inc., which announced last month that it has teamed with Baker Electronics Inc. to offer CabinLINK, an in-flight e-mail and Internet browsing service for corporate and private airline passengers.

The software and services from the Seattle-based Tenzing run over servers from Baker Electronics, in Sarasota, Florida. The servers connect to existing air-to-ground communication systems, allowing users to connect to the service over their laptop computers or onboard workstations using a wireless LAN connection in the small aircraft, Inmarsat said.

Last November, a project by The Boeing Co. to put high-speed Internet connections in its planes suffered a major setback when its three primary partners in Connexion by Boeing withdrew financial support in light of large financial losses following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

Connexion, which Boeing contends it is still developing, was to provide passengers with Internet connection speeds of at least 56k bps at cost of between US$10 and $20 an hour.

Inmarsat would sell bandwidth to the airlines, which would in turn sell it to passengers, though Inmarsat did not outline its bandwidth charges and could not immediately be reached for comment.

By the time the Swift64 service is offered to commercial airlines, Inmarsat expects to be running its Mobile Packet Data service based on based on IP (Internet Protocol), the company said. With the Mobile Packet Data service, Swift64 users will only be charged for the data that they send and receive, not the time they are connected, Inmarsat said.

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