RealTime IT News

A 'Virgin' Go Round For Sky-High Broadband

If you really can't bear to leave the e-mail behind when you fly, you won't have to for very long. Virgin America, the newest airline navigating U.S. skies, and wireless data and voice communications provider AirCell, announced a partnership this week to offer broadband Internet for U.S. travelers.

The service will allow Virgin America passengers to access the Internet using either Virgin America's Red inflight entertainment system or their own Wi-Fi enabled laptops, smartphones, PDAs, BlackBerrys and portable gaming systems. Virgin America just started offering flights last month.

While in flight, and under Virgin America's "mood lighting," passengers will be able to use the service to check e-mail, surf the Web, tap into an office network, stay current on the latest news and all the other stuff people while away their time online with.

AirCell's air-to-ground cellular network transmits and receives data between the ground and the aircraft at broadband speeds. It scored the 3 MHz of spectrum for $31.3 million in a Federal Communications Commission auction. U.S. airline JetBlue took 1 MHz in the same auction for $7 million.

At the time of its license win, AirCell said that because the system will use commercially available technology and a direct air-to-ground link, its installation and operating costs will be very affordable, enabling U.S. airlines to safely provide the connectivity their passengers are demanding.

Virgin America and AirCell will announce the cost of the service when it launches sometime in 2008. But whether U.S. travelers will buy into the flying Internet remains to be seen.

This isn't the first go round with broadband in the skies.

Boeing's Connexion service, which launched in 2001, was to supply passengers with broadband for a flat fee of $26.95 for long-haul flights or $9.95 per hour. But last year the airline abandoned the service due to lack of interest. It attracted only 12 airlines, mostly Asian and long-haul carriers.

"Over the last six years, we have invested substantial time, resources and technology in Connexion by Boeing," said Boeing CEO Jim McNerney at the time. "Regrettably, the market for this service has not materialized as had been expected."