Boeing to Expand In-Flight WiFi, Media Streaming

Boeing is outfitting various aircraft with improved in-flight WiFi systems fast enough to allow streaming video.

As more airline passengers demand in-flight Internet connectivity and low-cost carriers prepare to roll out free Web service to customers, airplane manufacturer Boeing announced the launch of a major initiative in which systems will be installed during production on the 747-8 and 777 by the end of 2013. The systems will have the capability to provide in-flight use for cell phones, WiFi connectivity for passengers, Internet access using in-flight entertainment (IFE) and live television broadcasts, according to a company release.

In addition, the company said it plans to introduce wireless media streaming on all new Boeing airplanes in 2014. The 737 airplane, which already includes wiring provisions for connectivity systems, is currently being evaluated for additional connectivity that could be available in the near future. Boeing is also working to provide a full set of connectivity offerings, including use of personal cell phones and WiFi connectivity for passengers, on its 787 aircraft as part of its standard catalog by the end of this year.

"We're always working to ensure that our products offer the airlines of the world the most modern and robust technologies available to provide their passengers with an exceptional flying experience," Mike Sinnett, senior chief engineer of airplane systems for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a prepared statement. "Passengers want the option of staying connected to email and the Internet and other online offerings when flying. We've looked across the industry and are partnering with several connectivity system providers across our family of airplanes."

The company's connectivity partners include Panasonic and its Global Communication Suite, as well as the Thales TopConnect system, which combines GSM, WiMax and WiFi network technologies. Panasonic's eXConnect suite offers applications of commercial passengers and flight crew, providing in-flight wireless high-speed broadband Internet and data services, and optimized data transfer on and off the aircraft in five key areas for the crew, including cabin operations, maintenance, flight operations, airline operations and airport communication. The eXPhone service, developed in collaboration with AeroMobile, an in-flight GSM operator, allows passengers to use their own mobile phones in flight for voice and data services for a per-minute calling charge.

The announcement follows an internal JetBlue email leaked earlier this week, which revealed the low-cost carrier is getting ready to offer travelers free in-flight wireless Web access. The company said its WiFi service would be fast enough to stream video content via Netflix during the flight. Several U.S. and international carriers offer in-flight WiFi, some for free and some for a fee, but connection speeds remain an issue-one that JetBlue and others aim to solve.