E-mail service will be available on all domestic flights in North America before the end of next year, although services elsewhere in the world will take two to three years to become widespread, according to the chief executive officer of Tenzing Communications, which provides technology and services for in-flight messaging.
United Air Lines announced a deal with Tenzing last week to provide e-mail on approximately 400 of its North American domestic flights by the end of this year. The service piggybacks on United's JetConnect service, offered with Verizon Communications, and is priced at $15.98 for up to 2KB of data, and $0.10 for each additional kilobyte.
Tenzing, based in Seattle, will announce similar deals with other airlines in the coming months, said Alan McGinnis, chief executive officer of the privately held company, who was in town for the Paris Air Show last week. All domestic flights in North America will be equipped for e-mail by the end of next year, he predicted.
"You'll see a lot of deals along the lines of 'Tenzing plus Verizon plus blank [airline],'" he said.
Passengers already can send e-mail on some United flights by connecting their laptops to existing JetConnect service. Sending e-mail that way is prohibitively expensive, however, and JetConnect wasn't designed for transmitting data, according to McGinnis. JetConnect with Email, the enhanced service being rolled out by United, is supposed to address those issues.
Verizon's network allows for a data connection speed of 9.6Kbps in North America, McGinnis said. Tenzing's main rival is Boeing's Connexion by Boeing, which allows passengers to surf the Web via a high-speed broadband connection as well as to send and receive e-mail. Lufthansa said last month that it would equip its fleet of about 80 long-haul aircraft with the service beginning early next year.
Airbus SAS, one of Boeing's chief rivals, is an investor in Tenzing, along with Cathay Pacific Airways and Rockwell Collins, McGinnis said.
He admitted that broadband services will dominate the skies eventually, but he argued that Tenzing's service is currently the best option for cash-starved airlines because the service requires only a software upgrade, meaning it's relatively cheap to implement. Connexion by Boeing requires airlines to fit their planes with new equipment to provide the broadband connection.
Tenzing hopes to evolve its service to higher speeds over time by piggybacking on top of new, faster communications equipment that it expects will be fitted to aircraft as standard in the near future, McGinnis said.
Services outside of North America will likely take longer to implement, he said, because of the time involved in brokering deals, regulatory issues and other concerns.
He downplayed the impact of financial hardships at the airlines, which were exacerbated after the Sept. 11, 2000, terrorist attacks on the U.S. and eventually drove United Airlines to seek bankruptcy protection. The airlines need a way to retain customers and lure new ones and services such as e-mail can help them to do that, he argued.