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Nothing but Blue Sky

Tenzing, Boeing's only real competitor, offers only a low-speed service of about 64 to 128 kbps that relies on the old domestic AirFone infrastructure over the U.S. and the satellite operator Inmarsat's low-speed third-generation network over water and elsewhere. Tenzing merged last year into a new company - OnAir - that is partly owned by Boeing's rival, Airbus.

How Tenzing Works

Figure 5: How Tenzing Works
(click image to enlarge)

Currently, this service - that costs $10 to $20 to view the first two kiloBytes of each message - is limited on most airlines to checking email through a Web interface to an on-board proxy server. However, Inmarsat has launched the first of two to three fourth-generation orbiters that provide 432 kbps per channel symmetrically, and can bond 1, 2, or 4 channels for a plane. Because thousands of planes already have Inmarsat avionics equipment, Tenzing's solution requires a small investment and radio upgrade to use the newer satellites. They expect to start rolling this out in late 2005.

Inmarsat uses beam-forming transponders that allow bandwidth to be focused on small areas, thus allowing them to pinpoint access where it's needed. But they will only have a few hundred transponders on each satellite and it's a unique approach - which means success can also challenge Inmarsat's ability to provide service at a high level.

Connexion appears to have packaged the right amount of speed and simplicity into their offering, providing reliability, remarkably low latency, and a consistency of service that's starting to extend to regular routes from major airlines. And Internet service providers and roaming service aggregators have signed deals left and right with Connexion in recent months.

This all makes it likely that if you're a corporate user and have a package already installed on your computer that you use for dial-up, hotel Internet, and hotspot use on the road, that it includes a Connexion option. Note, however, that Connexion and these partners haven't disclosed the discounted rate. Connexion has also signed direct deals with some corporations that allow an employee to use their corporate login to gain access; billing is handled for that automatically.

It continues to be a question as to whether the billions of dollars that Boeing has reportedly poured into this endeavor will ever be fully recouped. But the division has finally moved from talking about technology to having it readily available. And the early favorable word makes it more likely that both Boeing and its rivals will be unwiring the skies even further.

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