Lufthansa readies to reignite Connexion

Two and a half years after Connexion by Boeing (CBB) shuttered operations in the commercial space, its first and largest customer Lufthansa has confirmed plans to reignite in-flight broadband on overseas flights, and introduce connectivity to its narrowbody cabins.

Speaking at the World Airline Entertainment Association’s (WAEA) single focus connectivity workshop in Everett, Washington, Lufthansa head of cabin interior and IFE Peter Lewalter revealed the German operator next month will make an announcement concerning its specific plans for reintroducing broadband connectivity using the CBB antennas still installed on several dozen aircraft.

He says Lufthansa is presently in “very, very close negotiations” with a Ku-band connectivity provider.

Although Lewalter does not disclose whether Panasonic Avionics is the provider in question, ATI understands that Lufthansa has been holding exclusive negotiations with the in-flight entertainment (IFE) giant for its Ku-band-based eXConnect service, after ceasing talks with a teaming that comprised T-Mobile, ViaSat and others.

Because Lufthansa will use the already-installed antennae on its aircraft, the carrier believes it will be able to reignite high-speed broadband connectivity on its former CBB aircraft “very, very quickly”.

“We are discussing a hybrid solution in order to come back pretty soon and it is our intent to have the remaining aircraft then also installed as quick as possible,” says Lewalter, adding that the carrier plans to test a Ku-band solution on a test aircraft “early next year”.

Asked if Lufthansa hopes to offer the Ku-band solution line-fit on its Airbus A380s, Lewalter said that as soon as negotiations with the service provider are completed, “we will start again our negotiations” with Airbus about that.

He believes Lufthansa’s first A380 – due for delivery in early 2010 – will not be outfitted with the Ku-band solution from the get-go, but has high hopes “that we can as soon as possible” have installations on ensuing A380s.

Panasonic says only that it has reached agreement with five carriers to supply its eXConnect high-speed Internet service.

Lewalter also reveals that Lufthansa is preparing a request for proposal to equip its narrowbody fleet with connectivity.

The carrier is exploring various broadband options – ground-based and satellite-based – for its narrowbodies, but Lewalter admits that the landscape in Europe is different than in North America, where a dedicated air-to-ground infrastructure is in place and in use by US market leader Aircell.

A connectivity solution for Lufthansa’s narrowbodies is expected “sometime early next year”, says Lewalter.

Boeing pulled the plug on its CBB broadband in-flight communication and entertainment services at the end of 2006 due to lack of demand. But the challenges faced by Boeing in sustaining the CBB business model have diminished, according to Lewalter.

“With the latest modem technology there are fractions of a [satellite] transponder possible,” he says. The set-up is also different, with a core team of only 80 to 100 employees needed to get a Ku-band system running, versus the 600-strong workforce of CBB. Additionally, says Lewalter, GSM services are helping to make a business case for Ku-band connectivity as this generates further revenue from voice or non-voice data traffic.

“We need in my opinion broadband in order to fulfil requirements of the future, and I also absolutely believe that this will be profitable,” says the Lufthansa executive.

By Mary Kirby