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Not just for Passengers

While Connexion and its passengers are focusing on the routine uses of in-flight Internet access, Boeing's Deal said that there are plenty of other purposes to which airlines intend to put the Connexion connection. For example, live broadcast video is coming later this year on Singapore Airlines. Initially, Connexion will offer four channels of news and information, but will expand into other programming, notably sports.

Crew use is also an option depending on the airline. "We'd like to encourage it because we like early adopters," Deal said, but each airline has its own policies. However, it's clear from talking to Connexion users that Lufthansa allows its crew at least some access because of their enthusiasm for the service.

Telemedicine is also expected to be an important use of the live Internet feed allowing a remote doctor to help diagnose passenger distress through video and biometrics - such as pulse and blood pressure - and either provide instructions or suggest an emergency landing. Right now, airlines rely on ground medical services to advise, but without access to the patient's image and data, these happen much more frequently than is strictly necessary.

Pilots could, in the future, report in problems on a plane requiring maintenance in great detail well before arrival, while automatic telemetry can allow airlines to monitor and troubleshoot wear well before it occurs.

Boeing is optimistic about future versions of Wi-Fi acting as the data backbone on the plane advancing the possibility of services that can be delivered through on-board equipment. "We believe Wi-Fi technology is advancing at a rate quick enough, that eventually for a product like the 787, you'll see Wi-Fi as the backbone not just of communication but of entertainment," said Deal.

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