In-flight broadband poised for take-off

Airline operators may be facing an uncertain future, but soaring fuel prices are unlikely to dent investment in in-flight entertainment according to a report that predicts the market for on-board broadband will grow to $936 million in 2012.

MultiMedia Intelligence says that the prospects of additional passenger revenue are encouraging airlines to put money into adding services to their planes. With trials and then full launch anticipate in the second half of 2008, the market research firm predicts, the in-flight broadband market will generate $6.6m worldwide this year.

Its report, ̵6;Broadband in Flight: Wi-Fi and Direct Broadcast Video Become the Next Generation of In Flight Entertainment̵7;, describes two camps of providers: those employing air-to-ground technologies and those using satellite-based communications. There is also division over whether to offer a less expensive narrowband solution or a more costly but more robust and future-proof broadband alternative.

According to MMI, several initiatives to revive in-flight broadband have been in gestation since Boeing ended its Connexion service. These have been helped by the fact that new lightweight systems provide airlines significant fuel savings over previous generation solutions. On a fleet-wide basis, MMI estimates annual reduction in cost for a typical airline could be as high as $15m.

Although initial marketing efforts tend to focus on business class travellers, MMI says that providers shouldn̵7;t neglect leisure travellers. The in-flight broadband market has a strong correlation to the on-ground WiFi hotspot market, a market in which leisure users will account for half of access sessions in 2008.

Image: Trials of the new in-flight broadband systems will begin later this year

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