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Singapore Air launches in-flight e-mail, Web

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Computerworld

(IDG) -- The battle among the world's major airlines over in-flight e-mail heated up as Singapore Airlines Ltd. launched its Web and entertainment service last weekend on a Boeing 747 aircraft, the first of 55 wide-body jets that the airline plans to equip with the service during the next 14 months.

Singapore Airlines has tapped Seattle-based Tenzing Communications Inc., the same supplier that Hong Kong-based rival Cathay Pacific plans to use, to provide all classes of passengers with in-flight e-mail and Web service. Cathay Pacific won't start its service until it completely re-equips its fleet with the Tenzing system. In a statement, Singapore Airlines said the start of the service Sunday makes it the first carrier to provide in-flight e-mail and Web surfing via a satellite-based communications system.

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Last month, U.K.-based Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. said it planned to install the Tenzing system on all 32 of its planes. Dorval, Quebec-based Air Canada kicked off a test of five aircraft with the Tenzing system tied into ground stations of the North American Airphone network last December, and Stockholm-based Scandinavian Airline Systems (SAS) plans to start a test of the Tenzing e-mail and Web service over an onboard wireless LAN this fall.

Except for the case of Air Canada's network, the Tenzing in-flight Internet system provides passengers with e-mail service at 2.4K bit/sec., the maximum speed available over London-based Inmarsat Holdings Ltd.'s satellite system. Outgoing e-mails are cached and then sent in a compressed format at intervals throughout the flight, with inbound e-mails also periodically received. Tenzing also provides passengers with limited Web serving through pages cached on an onboard server, periodically updated by the satellite link.

Corrina Chan, a spokeswoman for Singapore Airlines, said the in-flight e-mail service is currently offered on one Boeing 747-400 aircraft on the Singapore/Los Angeles run. She said the second aircraft to offer the service will be a Boeing 777ER (Extended Range) starting in July, with the full wide-body 747/777 fleet equipped within 12 to 14 months.

The Singapore Airlines in-flight e-mail and Web access system is connected to the carrier's new MAS3000 in-flight entertainment system from Bothel, Wash.-based Matsushita Avionics Systems.

Singapore Airlines said it's the first airline to install the system, which will also allow passengers to hook into multiplayer network PC games. The games can pit passengers against one another, no matter where they're seated. The service will also offer 25 Nintendo Gateway Game Boy games, including Pokémon, with more games to be introduced later.

Singapore Airlines plans to offer in-flight e-mail and Web service for free through September, Chan said. She declined to provide prices for the service after that.

SAS projects it will charge passengers on a subscription basis at a cost of $25 to $30 per month for the service.



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