Business

Lufthansa plans to offer broadband access on short and medium-haul flights

Lufthansa tail fins Image copyright Reuters

German airline Lufthansa plans to offer broadband access on its short and medium-haul flights from next summer.

It says that a deal with Deutsche Telekom and satellite firm Inmarsat will allow passengers to enjoy "the same speed and quality" of internet surfing that they are used to at home.

Lufthansa has not decided how much the service will cost, but it could be linked to the type of ticket purchased.

Broadband is still relatively rare on short-haul flights.

Norwegian is one of the few airlines to offer broadband for free.

Simon Calder from the BBC's Travel Show says that, so far, wifi on planes is "not very good" and he does not expect Lufthansa to improve on that.

"It's feasible to provide a broadband connection at 500mph. But if 150 people want to connect then it is likely to be fragile, and not a great experience," he said.

However, Lufthansa says its service will be based on the most modern technology available and may be fast enough to offer streaming of videos.

According to Deutsche Telekom the combination of satellite technology and a sophisticated ground network will "deliver the fastest, best and most consistent in-flight broadband experience that meets the needs of airlines in this region".

Image copyright Inmarsat

Analysis: Jonathan Amos, BBC Science correspondent

There is no doubt there is pent up demand for good wifi in the sky.

But many people who've used the internet onboard an aeroplane may well have a less than favourable view of the experience: low speeds, delays in pages loading, and, significantly, a high cost compared with what can can be purchased in a café on the ground.

The new EU-wide system on which Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom are partnering is designed to tackle all these flaws.

By getting planes to link to ground cell towers should significantly increase speeds - to allow even streaming video in the aircraft seat - while at the same time transforming the cost-per-bit economics of onboard wifi.

But you still need a satellite to fill in any gaps in cell coverage, and to pick up customers' connections when their planes head out of Europe and over the ocean on long-haul flights.

For Inmarsat - even with its current, lower-speed, satellite-only systems - the aero business is now the fastest growing sector in the London company's portfolio.

For Lufthansa, which will be the first carrier to offer the network - it has done survey work in which two-thirds of customers say good connectivity will influence the airline they choose.


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