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Internet Access Takes Flight

The Internet is joining the mile-high club: Three separate projects are under way to bring E-mail and Internet access to commercial airline passengers.

In Flight Networks, the Globalstar satellite network, and Qualcomm Inc. say their partnership will offer on-board, low-cost broadband Internet access, E-mail, paging, and voice over IP to airline companies. The system uses Globalstar's geostationary-satellite network to transmit broadband Internet data and entertainment directly to and from aircraft. The service uses Qualcomm's Code Division Multiple Access technology and will operate at speeds of 200 Kbps, says Jerry Beckwith, president of Qualcomm Wireless Systems. The service will be demonstrated to airlines in July for full deployment in late 2001, though IFN, which brings passengers the video programming shown in the air, will roll out pieces of the service earlier.

Also, Air Canada is beginning a six-month trial of E-mail and Internet access on some the 767 aircraft it flies. The company will evaluate the results before deciding whether to roll out the service.

And in April, aircraft maker Boeing Co. said it will offer a high-speed satellite communications network for airlines, in partnership with CNN, Mitsubishi Electric, and Loral Skynet.

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