Inflight connectivity took a giant international step today when Panasonic, T-Mobile and others demonstrated a new Ku Band connectivity service on a Lufthansa B747, during a flight to New York. The service is dubbed FlyNet. Here is part of the news release from Panasonic:

“Panasonic, the world leader in state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment and communication (IFEC) systems, today announced that its Global Communications Suite enables Lufthansa’s newly re-launched FlyNet broadband Internet service. Using the Global Communications Suite’s eXConnect system, FlyNet will provide passengers with in- flight broadband connectivity on Lufthansa’s commercial intercontinental flights, beginning December 1st on North-Atlantic routes. The service was demonstrated earlier today on an international flight traveling from Frankfurt, Germany to New York, U.S.A.”

Significant here is the “long march” both Panasonic executives, David Bruner (VP) and Paul Margis (CEO) have been through to bring this product to market. Suffice it to say, these folks (and the whole team for that matter) staked their reputations on connectivity and a desire to help disconnected travelers. IFExpress has become enthusiastic supporters of their cause… one that we have been watching for some 7 years now.

“We are very excited to announce that our Global Communications Suite is operational, initially on transatlantic flights offered by Lufthansa, our launch customer,” said Paul Margis, Chief Executive Officer for Panasonic Avionics Corporation. “We are honored to be part of Lufthansa’s FlyNet re-launch, and we believe that our Global Communications Suite will play a key role in helping them deliver their industry-leading in-flight broadband Internet service.”

Here are a series of questions we asked Panasonic about FlyNet:

Q. What number of a/c are installed today? Which fleet will get installation hardware?

A. “All of the long-range fleet – approximately 100 aircraft will be installed.  Approximately 12 aircraft are installed; however, initially six will be used to start service with others being added each week.”

Q. We understand some earlier CBB (Connexion By Boeing) hardware was used on a limited number of aircraft and integrated into your solution.

A. “The key for Lufthansa was taking advantage of the labor hours and engineering design effort that was expended to put the CBB system on years ago.  Using the existing equipment will allow LH to get more aircraft operating with broadband much sooner.  An airline really needs a large proportion of the fleet installed to effectively market the service.”

Q. What is final fleet size for this “version”? 

A. “Approximately 75 to 80 aircraft will use the previous antenna system and approximately 20 to 25 aircraft will be installed with the new PAC antenna.  Over time as the Melco antennas age they will be replaced with Panasonic antennas.”

Q. What is the service deployment rate?

A. “LH has many aircraft scheduled for heavy maintenance over this coming winter which will be retrofitted.  An exact installation number is not known at this time however a majority of the fleet will be installed.”

Q. Which Ku Satcoms are involved… coverage where… ?

A. “Initial service is from Europe to North America.  4 satellites provide this coverage.  Over the next few months all satellites will be turned on for a total of 14.”

Q. I assume testing has been ongoing…. how long and what kind of results?

A. “There have been lots of challenges to overcome in reaching the point of stability we are at now which allows us to roll out the service.  That is not to say we are completely done as there is always more improvement that we can make as we get more data from usage inflight.”

Q. What is the data delivery rate to the passenger?

A. “Right now we are launching with 5 to 10 MBps per region and are adding more capacity as more aircraft are installed. This scalability of the bandwidth by region is a new enhancement that we have that CBB did not.  It is very important in helping to manage the network costs as the fleet is being installed.”

Q. What data rate is available per plane?

A.”The answer is “it depends”.  Each aircraft can use all of the bandwidth in a region; however, the more aircraft in a region they will share the bandwidth. now aircraft don’t receive a specified allotment – they receive as much as they ask for or whatever is available. It is a different concept that allows better network utilization.”

Q. Typically, what is the coverage per spot beam?

A. “Each satellite footprint is different.  Most were designed for VSAT usage on land.  There are now a few satellites that were designed for oceanic coverage for maritime and aeronautical usage.”

Q. Any licensing issues currently?

A. “Not really, approximately 200 countries worldwide and the tough countries coming online very soon.”

Q. Will the LH routes include USA… and if so, which cities?

A. “Yes, North America is the first region for LH.  Service will start with FRA-JFK, then Detroit then Atlanta with other markets coming online quickly as more aircraft are installed.”

Q. Any Start-up deals for passengers?

A. “Yes, complimentary service until February 1!”

We also note the Deutch Telekom (parent of T-Mobile) news release states: “All Telekom mobile communications customers can use the HotSpot under their cell phone contracts. They have to pay a fee of EUR 1.80 ($2.33) for every 10 minutes for FlyNet. In order to mark the launch of FlyNet, access for all passengers is free of charge until the end of January 2011. After the introductory period, passengers can register for the service using their credit card, via another roaming partner, or by redeeming Award Miles from their Miles & More account. The standard credit card offer costs EUR 10.95 ($14.33) for one hour, and EUR 19.95 ($25.93) for 24 hours. Customers can purchase the service on-board, and continue to use it in Lufthansa lounges after the flight.”

Q. We assume Wi-Fi is connection method… any other?

A. “Wi-FI with GSM to be added in 1Q11.”

We asked an onboard passenger about the service and she emphatically replied, “It works great.” That is good enough for us. Let IFExpress know about your experience with FlyNet, we will report back!

IFExpress would also like to personally thank the Panasonic team for taking the time to answer our questions during the flight…and, we want our readers to know that the Q & A data in this article was sent in real time FROM THE PLANE! Nice work Panasonic!

Remember the old saying, “Hardware is easy, Software is hard!?” Well it certainly is true in Panasonic’s case. They kindly provided this block diagram of ‘how the system works & plays together’ and it certainly explains why the company took time and pains to make sure all connectivity entities played well together. You will note that Panasonic monitors and compares the billing engines in what is most probably a QA check. Also. note that the company will eventually have to support many airlines and many flying clients…thus a data center and Network Operations Center.”

Editor’s Note: Later this week, WIN is rolling out a a connectivity-related edition that looks to be very tasty. Try to get your hands on one and use it as a reference. Good Stuff!

ATLANTA, Oct. 20, 2010 – Boeing [NYSE: BA] Business Jets today announced the first certification and installation of Panasonic Avionics Corporation’s in-flight wireless high-speed broadband service, eXConnect, on a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) 737 aircraft.

As part of the installation agreement, Panasonic will use the privately owned BBJ for ongoing testing and validation, as well as for live demonstrations. The system supports a wide range of passenger and crew applications including very high speed internet access to passengers anywhere in the world at speeds of up to 50 MBps to the aircraft.

“The eXConnect system installed on the Boeing 737 continues to exceed our expectations, and we are very excited to show customers, OEMs and other groups the true broadband experience made possible by our Ku solution,” said Paul Margis, Chief Executive Officer, Panasonic Avionics Corporation.

The fuselage-mounted antenna communicates through a global network of satellites and provides higher data rates than tail-mounted antennas traditionally used on business aviation aircraft. The BBJ is ideally suited to carrying a larger and more capable antenna than traditional sized business jets so global coverage is possible.

“Since its introduction to the market, the Boeing Business Jet has always provided something more than the traditional corporate jet manufacturers have been able to provide – more space, more comfort, more productivity and more utility,” said Boeing Business Jets president Steve Taylor.

“Panasonic’s new high speed data system opens up a new capability to our customers that will help satisfy the growing need for passengers to be connected all the time, including in the air,” said Taylor.