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Wed, Oct 26, 2005

AirCell Brings Wireless Broadband To Aircraft

Watch Movies, Check Email And, Yes, Talk On Your Cellphone At FL350

AirCell, the only company ever to receive regulatory approval to use cellular frequencies for airborne telecommunications, has announced the successful completion of its extended airborne demonstration program, allowing airline customers to experience broadband communications technology while in flight.

Targeted for commercial deployment in 2007, the AirCell Broadband System will enable airline passengers to use their own Wi-Fi & cellular devices such as laptops, PDA's, phones and Blackberries in a fully-integrated wireless cabin over an affordable, broadband air-to-ground link.

"The AirCell Broadband System is really the first viable system for the U.S. market," stated Jack W. Blumenstein, AirCell Chairman & CEO. "If you look at what our demonstration program achieved technologically and consider the applications we'll enable for airlines and travelers, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. During the demonstration flights, it was exciting to watch people experience the system for the first time and hear them come up with more and more ways they could use it."

According to a company press release, the system uses standardized equipment and a direct air-to-ground link -- meaning its installation and operating costs will be a fraction of similar systems that use satellites. The company believes this will enable US airlines to provide the connectivity their passengers are increasingly demanding, at prices very similar to what they pay on the ground.

The flight demonstration program showcased an advanced technology prototype of the AirCell Broadband System. Key demonstration system components and technical features included:

  • A Broadband Air-to-Ground Link that uses custom-designed EVDO wireless technology. The link provides a high-speed connection directly from the aircraft to the ground, delivering a "to-the-seat" user experience similar to a DSL link on the ground.
  • A Cabin Telecommunications Router (CTR) that provides a high-speed, in-cabin hotspot for WiFi-equipped devices (802.11b/g) including Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones.
  • Multiple Cabin Picocells supporting CDMA and GSM voice communications for commercial cell phones.

In test applications aboard AirCell's demonstration aircraft, passengers used the technology to operate their Wi-Fi and cellular phones. "E-mail over Wi-Fi was perfect," commented one. "The speed was DSL-like and e-mail and Internet surfing worked flawlessly."

Participants also made VoIP phone calls using handsets and over their laptops, and were even able to watch their home TV live from their PC. Passengers logged into their corporate VPNs to access e-mail and company directories. They watched live news, entertainment, and sporting event broadcasts. They called friends and colleagues, checked their voice mails, and even updated their return airline reservations from aboard the demo aircraft.

A vice president from a domestic, low-cost airline noted, "We've always been intrigued by the concept of airborne wireless broadband, but the satellite-based systems just aren't viable for our fleet in North America."

"What AirCell is doing with their system changes everything," he added. "It provides the speed and capabilities you need at a cost that's very workable. This opens up a world of potential applications for internal airline operations as well as passengers."

Airline executives also predicted that since passengers will bring their own hardware and have wireless access to the internet, AirCell Broadband will become a very important aspect of an airline's ability to entertain & inform its passengers in-flight.

FMI: www.aircell.com

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