iPass Takes Flight with Boeing

iPass , an aggregator of hotspots for business users, is moving beyond the hotels, cafes, and even its many airports with wireless connections, to tackling the sky itself. The latest provider of high-speed Wi-Fi to join the iPass footprint is Connexion by Boeing.

A unit of the Boeing Company , Connexion uses satellite backhaul to provide Wi-Fi based connections to passengers and crew on airplanes. Through this agreement, any subscribers to the iPass service will be able to use the Internet access on a plane with Connexion service without paying extra fees.

“We’ve been monitoring and engaged in the in-flight space in the last 18 months,” says Mike More, Director of Business Development at iPass. “Connexion is leading the way in traction, and with mounting demand from customers for in-flight access, it’s the right time to execute.”

iPass already offers service in 121 airports in 21 different companies. Airlines using Connexion are at many of these airports, including Copenhagen, Narita/New Tokyo, and Changi Airport.

This is the first deal Connexion has set up with any outside Wi-Fi provider. Currently, Connexion service is limited to the airlines and planes that have installed it. Germany’s Lufthansa has some planes using it, and there are agreements to have it installed on long range aircraft for Scandinavian Airlines, Japan Airlines, ANA, Singapore Airlines, China Airlines, Korean Air, and others. (U.S. use is limited at this time to one Lufthansa flight in and out of Los Angeles to Munich.)

Connexion wasn’t available to speak about the deal at press time. Moore says Connexion’s focus remains on landing even more airline customers, and that the partnership with iPass will help them penetrate the enterprise for customers.

“They’ve got some attractive ‘real estate’ in the Wi-Fi space, and will probably run a significant number of the planes that will have this equipment,” says Moore.

He says one limitation for getting the Connexion service deployed on planes is that the aircraft have to come out of a regular flight schedule and go into an extended maintenance schedule, during which time the Wi-Fi equipment is installed. However, Moore says, Boeing will eventually “do this right off the assembly line.”

Connexion is not alone in the airline Wi-Fi business. Other providers include Tenzing Communications (which is backed by Airbus, a direct competitor to Boeing in the business of building planes), which is already providing service on Middle East airlines; and those just trying to get off the ground, like Sky Way Communications.

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