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Wendy is an IFE Agent responsible for aggregating airline news specifically related to Inflight entertainment. She compiles stories relevant to business travelers, airline industry folks, marketers and tech geeks. IFE News doesn't create original content, but rather posts compelling editorial from global media outlets.

Feel the Width Wi-Fi use in the cabin and cockpit is on the increase, but should we still be questioning its implementation?

Feel the Width Wi-Fi use in the cabin and cockpit is on the increase, but should we still be questioning its implementation?

By MARIETTA CAUCHI

The launch of a satellite specifically targeting airlines is increasing competition among carriers to provide in-flight Wi-Fi. Marietta Cauchi discusses how airlines hope to open a new revenue stream by offering services and goods through the Wi-Fi system.

EUROPE’S SMALLER AIRLINES are proving to be the first movers in the current race to get airborne passengers connected to Wi-Fi. Companies such as Norwegian Air Shuttle NAS.OS +2.41% ASA, Icelandair ICEAIR.RK -0.15% and Russia’s Transaero Airlines are eclipsing progress being made by most of the major carriers, though industry heavyweights say cost and connectivity problems explain their more measured approach. The launch of a satellite specifically targeting airlines, however, is set to trigger more competition as carriers will have extra bandwidth to offer passengers. Unlike ground-based systems, a satellite-based service has the advantage of getting around the problem of Europe’s fragmented regulation of terrestrial telecommunications systems.

Still, Europe’s partial embrace of in-flight Wi-Fi is in sharp contrast to the U.S., where carriers have been able to use a single, land-based system, and have seen a dramatic take-up rate in just a few years. The cost for users ranges from $5 to $10, depending on the length of the flight.

“All the major airlines are in the game,” said Joseph Schwieterman, transport professor at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.

Norwegian was the first airline to offer high-speed broadband on flights within Europe in 2011. Sixty of its 74 aircraft now carry the service and it will continue the rollout across 222 new BoeingBA +1.09% and Airbus planes due for delivery from 2015. Transaero and Icelandair are more recent converts and began Wi-Fi installation last year.

“It is a brave investment and being first is always a risk, but as a small airline we need products that differentiate us,” said Boris Bubresko, head of business development at Norwegian. Norwegian is Europe’s third-biggest discount airline behind Ireland’sRyanair Holdings RYA.DB -0.31% PLC and the U.K.’s easyJet PLC. EZJ.LN 0.00%

The low-cost carrier said that take-up increases monthly and, on average, 80 passengers on a 186-seat flight use Wi-Fi.

“As soon as we started the rollout we noticed that the flights with Wi-Fi were attracting more passengers,” said Mr. Bubresko.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG LHA.XE +0.31% is the only major national carrier in Europe to offer Wi-Fi, partly because it was an early adopter via Boeing Co.’s now-defunct Connexion system. Lufthansa has reinstalled and adapted the Boeing technology with partner Panasonics Avionics Corp. The German airline has equipped 90% of its 100-plane, long-haul fleet and will extend this to all long-haul flights by year end. Up to 25% of Lufthansa’s passengers use Wi-Fi at some stage during a flight, but the company concedes that the on-board system is by no means perfect. “There can be disruption and delay and passengers can’t use the phone function because it could overload the system,” a Lufthansa spokesman said, adding that there are “many people [who] also want quietness on board.” Lufthansa charges €9.95 an hour or €19.95 for 24 hours for its Wi-Fi service.

Virgin Atlantic and Air France-KLM AF.FR +0.24% are currently running trials and have both recently introduced mobile phone connectivity using in-flight operator AeroMobile. International Consolidated Airlines Group‘s IAG.MC -0.71% British Airways has no plans to extend its Wi-Fi service beyond the pair of A318s that fly from London City to New York.

Low-cost carriers easyJet and Ryanair have their positions under review but say that the cost of equipping aircraft is a major issue, at least for the next few years.

Norwegian Air Shuttle uses a satellite system provided by Row 44, a subsidiary of California-based Global Eagle EntertainmentENT +1.21% which kitted out U.S. carriers Southwest Airlines LUV -0.65% and Allegiant Air and which has also started installing systems on Icelandair and Transaero. “Airlines want the whole shooting match so they get the branding and sell through the portal,” said John LaValle, CEO of Global Eagle Entertainment. “They want the direct conversation with their customers.”

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