• United States

Tenzing makes in-flight e-mail possible

May 06, 20033 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMessaging Apps

* Tenzing’s in-flight messaging services

If you need access to e-mail during a flight, Tenzing has the service for you. Tenzing provides two in-flight messaging services – one for customers with laptops and one for customers without.

The laptop service, which is currently deployed on 42 of Cathay Pacific’s 69 aircraft, allows a user to plug his or her laptop into a phone jack in the seat and send and receive messages via an onboard high-speed LAN. A proxy server – which can be supplied by Tenzing if one is not already installed on the aircraft – collects all e-mail from and to passengers and communicates with ground stations or satellites every 10 to 20 minutes.

Customers of ISP PCCW, a partner of Cathay Pacific, can log on to their account using their normal username and password; non-PCCW customers can sign up for an account while in flight.

E-mail service generally runs $10 to $20 per flight – the variability is based on the size of the messages sent and received, although users can review their messages before downloading them to avoid downloading unwanted messages.

Tenzing’s seatback service is basically a trimmed-down version of the laptop service and is currently deployed on a handful of Virgin Atlantic aircraft. Customers use the seatback monitor to send and receive SMS messages at $2.50 each.

Tenzing will soon be offering a hybrid messaging service through Verizon Airfone that will be available on all Airfone-equipped aircraft. This service will work just like the laptop service except that the Airfone phone jack will be used instead of a dedicated jack in the seat. Pricing per flight is expected to be similar to pricing for Tenzing’s laptop version.

The ability to send and receive e-mail through Tenzing’s systems will become relatively widespread by the end of 2003. All of Cathay Pacific’s aircraft are expected to be outfitted with the laptop system by year-end, and 15 of Virgin Atlantic’s aircraft will have the seatback system installed. The Verizon system is expected to make Tenzing’s in-flight e-mail capability available on several hundred aircraft within the next few months.

So far, the use of in-flight e-mail on Cathay Pacific has been disappointing because of significantly reduced passenger traffic. Traffic is down because of the Iraq war and the outbreak of Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome, both of which began within two weeks of the rollout of the laptop system. However, Tenzing claims that the system reliability and uptime so far have been very good.

While the extremely low data rates currently available for communications from aircraft to ground or satellite relay stations make real-time Web surfing impossible in this system, messaging capabilities – albeit with slower-than-normal delivery times when compared with using e-mail in an office – are very definitely going to be widely available and affordable by year-end.