Should you be doing a lot more business at 35,000 feet in 2008, you'll have Jack Blumenstein to thank. The CEO of Denver-based AirCell has inked deals with American Airlines and Virgin America to bring wireless Internet access to their aircraft, starting in the first half of 2008. His consumer research says that 75% of passengers with laptops would use onboard Internet every time they fly. The airline pays $100,000 for the installation, the passenger pays $10 per flight, and Blumenstein thinks he can bring in $1 billion a year.
It's a proposition some giants of the industry couldn't make work. Connexion by Boeing, the joint wireless Internet venture between Boeing, American, Delta, and United, folded in 2006 after onboard equipment proved too expensive and heavy - as much as $800,000 and 1,000 pounds.
What makes AirCell different? The company's Internet equipment is significantly lighter (at 150 pounds) and less expensive than Boeing's technology. Unlike Connexion, which used satellites, AirCell's engineers use cellphone towers on the ground to create a roaming hot spot in the air. AirCell worked with equipment maker Qualcomm to fine-tune existing cellphone radios and mount them atop existing towers. Because there's nothing up there to get in the way of the signals, AirCell will use just 100 cell towers to cover the continental U.S.