Hong Kong airlines to join the WiFi world

The Hong Kong-based international airlines Cathay Pacific and Dragonair will soon offer wireless internet connections to passengers on their flights as well as a selection of live TV stations. And the news has internet chat-rooms buzzing with excitement not only about the service but about how powerful it apparently will be.

"In-flight GSM calling and 50 megabit broadband. How d'you like them apples?'' was the reaction from Devin Coldewey, who writes for the gadget-savvy website Crunch Gear ( http://www.crunchgear.com).

As the website is quick to point out, a 50Mbps connection is more powerful than those find in most homes.

Cathay Pacific said in a press release marking the move that it expected all 158 aircraft in the combined Cathay-Dragonair fleet to have the services available within two years.

The service - Panasonic Avionics' eXConnect system - would allow passengers to use mobile phones, smart phones and BlackBerrys to make calls, send text messages

Cathay said mobile phone and BlackBerry services would be charged on a similar rate to global roaming while internet users would be offered various packages from an hour to unlimited time over the same flight.

The Panasonic service uses a series of satellites which are able to maintain signals even when aircraft are flying over oceans.

Industry watchers are predicting the number of planes offering similar services will top the 2,000 mark by the end of 2010, thereby generating some US$95 million in extra revenue for airlines still recovering from the impact of the world's recent financial woes.

Global research company In-Stat believes it's only a matter of time before the majority of flights offer such internet services and that the increase availability will drop connection rates by about 24 per cent.

MS

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