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Airlines to Install 4,000 Picocells for Passenger GSM and Wi-Fi Services by 2011

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While passenger surveys continue to have a weak track record of predicting demand, both positively and negatively, the cost to supply wireless services to air travelers continues to fall. Airborne picocells have dropped in price along with their terrestrial counterparts, in spite of additional R&D investments in aeronautical systems to ensure that their logic and memory chips function properly at cruise altitudes. In turn, this has improved the economics, and reduced the weight requirements, of deploying passenger wireless systems on commercial airliners, according to a soon to be released study from Freesky Research.

While many airlines will deploy either 802.11 or 3G picocells, a large number will not go fleet-wide over the next four years. "For all the reductions in equipment costs, airlines are still reluctant to invest in systems that they cannot amortize over at least five years of flying," said David Gross, author of the report. "Well over half of the deployments will be on three aircraft families. Widebodies with over 10,000 cycles that fly highly profitable routes are still seen as questionable places for GSM and Wi- Fi installations. Additionally, CRJs remain a particular challenge, because there is strong reluctance by both large airlines and their regional partners to install a wireless system on a jet that could be flying under different colors in 2010."

GSM picocells will roll out quickly on aircraft registered in European, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries, with text messaging remaining one of the most cost-effective connectivity services airlines can offer. Wi-Fi picocells have already made significant inroads with crew applications, particularly for updating approach charts and for accessing management networks while parked at the gate. However, some airlines will continue to use Wi-Fi for cabin surveillance and for Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) without deploying passenger systems.

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Tags: text messaging  aircraft  memory chips  memory  802.11  airlines