Surfing the Net at 35,000 feet

April 1, 2006

I am flying back from a meeting in Zermatt, Switzerland, aboard one of Lufthansa's aircraft that is equipped with a high-speed wireless Internet provided by Boeing's Connexion service.

I am flying back from a meeting in Zermatt, Switzerland, aboard one of Lufthansa's aircraft that is equipped with a high-speed wireless Internet provided by Boeing's Connexion service.

Setup was a breeze - I just opened my Web browser and was taken directly to the Lufthansa home page, where there are a wide range of free services including news, sports, business and 10 free business book summaries which can be downloaded as PDFs or eBooks. This was a good way to try out the service and assure myself of the connection speed before purchasing access to the whole Internet: $9.95 for an hour, or $29.95 for the flight.

Because I am on an eight-hour flight (and I am in the best business class I have ever experienced, with a normal 120-volt plug-in at my seat for the laptop power supply), I picked the $29.95 package. Security is the same as you would expect on a wireless connection in a good hotel: good enough for just about any routine use. There is no extra charge for a VPN (virtual private network) connection if you want or need that to connect to your hospital or clinic.

I hooked up my Plantronics 250 USB headset with microphone and made a few phone calls (for 2 cents a minute!) using Skype, and could hear people very clearly, but they complained that there was a lot of noise (probably wind noise, as I am in a window seat). There is a momentary lag in the conversations, because the high-speed connection is by way of a satellite sitting at 25,000 miles, relaying data to and from an Earth station, which connects to the Net. There is a flat phased-array antenna on the roof of this aircraft. Because the phased array is all solid-state, software processing kept the antenna constantly oriented toward the satellite, compensating several times a second for aircraft location, direction, roll, pitch and yaw.

I wandered the cabin and saw several other happy users surfing the Net, and turning downtime into a productive and/or entertaining experience. Time flies when you have high-speed access to the Net!

Kevin C. Smith, M.D.,is a dermatologist in Niagara Falls, Ontario. He may be reached at ksmithderm@aol.com
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