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Market for the Wireless Skies Still Evolving

Wi-Fi may be ubiquitous on land, but the technologies available aboard airliners are still evolving.  Although the standards for satellite-based Wi-Fi -- Ku band and Ka band, which operate in different frequencies – are still evolving and the cost is steep, airlines are cautiously making investments. The US Federal Aviation Administration is credited with bolstering adoption after a November 2013 decision allowing passengers to use smartphones, tablets and e-readers throughout a flight. An estimated 40 percent of commercial aircraft in the US have some type of Wi-Fi service. Worldwide, the number of commercial airliners with some combination of Wi-Fi and/or cellular service should increase from 4,000 to 14,000, according to analysts with IHS. Despite this growth, only half of the worldwide fleet will be wired in 2022. One of those airlines waiting to see how the standards shake out its Hawaiian Airlines. The delay, according to chief financial officer, Peter Ingram, is because “We don't want to end up with a Betamax.” Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the German air carrier, knows the risks well. It spent millions on Wi-Fi with Connexion by Boeing, a service dissolved in 2006. Technology is evolving with satellite connections expected to increase to speeds of roughly 70 megabits per second, but it is worth noting the bandwidth is shared among all aboard the flight, which could be as many as 200 people. Airlines may eventually be able to use better Wi-Fi connections as well as availability as a selling point with frequent travelers. Lufthansa, which has now equipped roughly 90 percent of its long-haul planes with satellite connectivity, is slowly adding hardware to the remainder of its fleet, but must make a “triple-digit-million” euro investment to do so. The sticking point for providing wireless services on international flights, according to Conde Nast Traveler, is the expense and logistics associated with satellite Internet. Among them, regulations governing the radar dome that covers the antenna or radome. The US Federal Aviation Administration, in addressing concerns about its ability to weather being hit by birds  sought to insure any aircraft could still fly in the event the radome was hit with a four-pound bird traveling 400 miles per hour. LiveTV was the first provider with a radome able to pass testing. Companies in the sector include Gogo Inc., which has systems on about 80 percent of US commercial airliners with WiFi; Row44, which is owned by Global Eagle Entertainment, whose clients include Southwest Airlines; LiveTV, owned by French company Thales; Panasonic Avionics, a unit of Panasonic of Japan; and OnAir, a unit of SITA that is based in Geneva. (Conde Nast Traveler)(Reuters -- 1)(Reuters – 2)

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