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In-flight Internet access takes off

A Lufthansa flight from Munich, Germany, to Los Angeles is the first commercial aircraft to offer travelers broadband access.

Broadband access has taken off on a Lufthansa flight equipped with Connexion by Boeing's mobile communications service.

Flight 452 from Munich, Germany, to Los Angeles this week became the first commercial aircraft to offer travelers high-speed Internet access, the Boeing subsidiary announced. With the service, passengers can wirelessly access e-mail and the Web through a network set up on the plane. Passengers will also be able to plug their laptops into outlets at every seat, according to an airline employee. All "long haul" Lufthansa routes from Munich and Frankfurt will offer the service by 2006.

The service is available for $29.95 for unlimited access per flight or $9.95 for 30 minutes and 25 cents per minute after that. Other European and Asian carriers are expected to debut the service later this year.

Analysts expect airports and airplanes to be a significant opportunity for broadband Internet access providers in the coming years because of the concentrated number of business travelers who often experience downtime in those locations.

"Broadband connectivity is something that business travelers are willing to pay for, and it's an area of opportunity, because they are in a controlled environment where they haven't had access before," said Anshu Dua, an analyst at research firm Pyramid Research.

Other locations ripe with potential are hotels and train stations.

In airplanes, satellite connections are used to send and receive data. Wired and wireless networks are set up within the plane to give passengers access to the connection.

Connexion has agreements with Scandinavian Airlines, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Kingdom Holding to set up their long-haul planes with the service. Singapore Airlines, China Airlines and Korean Air also plan to install Connexion's service on their long-range aircraft.

Connexion has also been working on high-speed Internet connections for maritime markets.