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Business

Lufthansa offers broadband Internet again on transatlantic flights

Lufthansa's transatlantic passengers with laptops and smartphones can now surf the Internet in midair. Voice chats aren't permitted, but there's no telling what sites passengers might visit.

A Lufthansa plane takes off

Lufthansa's transatlantic passengers can send emails to those on the ground

Passengers on board transatlantic Lufthansa flights, flying high in the sky, can now stay connected to the rest of the world via wireless broadband Internet connections.

The airline began offering its FlyNet service on Dec. 1, with connections fast enough to watch videos and play online games. Although Internet telephony services such as Skype are not blocked, their use won't be permitted.

In the spring of 2011, the company will also make mobile phone technology available for text messaging and wireless data transfer via smart phones.

Lufthansa had offered the same service through Connexion by Boeing in 2003 but stopped in 2006 when Boeing discontinued the service. At the time, the service was used by some 30,000 passengers per month.

Lufthansa press speaker Boris Ogursky said Boeing apparently did not see the service as economically viable at the time.

"We found that to be very unfortunate," he told Deutsche Welle. "But at the time, it was clear to us – and it was clear fairly quickly – that we wanted to find a way to offer a similar service. From our perspective, the experience was positive."

More Internet-capable devices than ever

Ogursky said Lufthansa decided to offer the FlyNet service because of the benefit to customers -- and to the airline.

"The fact that we offer (broadband) Internet access sets us apart... and we hope that we will be able to increase demand this way," he said, adding that "now significantly more customers have a device capable of connecting to a wireless LAN."

According Deutsche Bank Research analyst Eric Heymann, the proliferation of smartphones makes the economics of in-flight Internet more viable than it was in 2003.

Panasonic's Paul Margis and Lufthansa's Wolfgang Mayrhuber

Panasonic's Margis and Lufthansa's Mayrhuber shook on the deal in 2009

"The increasing use of smartphones and other mobile devices will speed this development up," he told Deutsche Welle. "At any rate, such devices are a very clear step in the direction of mobile Internet use in general."

Available to all passengers

Lufthansa's Ogursky said FlyNet is available "not just in the premium classes; every passenger on board a (transatlantic) long-distance flight will be able to use this service."

The fee is 10.95 euros for one hour and 19.95 euros for 24 hours.

Ogursky also said the company's decision not to permit Internet telephony was based on customer surveys that indicated many would not be in favor of the move.

By comparison, Deutsche Bahn, which offers Internet access currently in 72 high-speed ICE trains, permits mobile phone conversations on board.

Analyst Heymann, however, sides with Lufthansa. "In business travel, some people enjoy that they aren't available for a while," he said. "It's sort of the last mobile-phone-free zone."

FlyNet is offered through Panasonic Avionics Corporation and uses the payment system of Deutsche Telekom. The Deutsche Telekom payment system can be used with a network of 8,000 hotspots throughout Germany.

Author: Gerhard Schneibel
Editor: John Blau

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