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Honeywell, OneWeb partner to offer satellite internet to aircraft

By Alwyn Scott

NEW YORK, March 2 (Reuters) - Honeywell International Inc said on Monday it has teamed up with satellite internet startup OneWeb Ltd to expand the high-speed data services it offers to aircraft.

OneWeb, whose investors include Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Qualcomm Inc, plans to build a network of 648 low-orbit satellites capable of beaming fast internet around the world starting in 2019.

Honeywell will use OneWeb's bandwidth to provide aircraft services such as streaming maintenance data from engines and other equipment to the ground, transmitting weather and navigation data to pilots and supplying fast internet connections to passengers. The system also could stream black box flight data or cockpit video, ideas regulators are discussing, Honeywell said.

Honeywell already supplies some services through satellite providers such as Iridium Communications Inc and Inmarsat Plc. But the faster speeds and low latency that OneWeb promises - at least 50 megabits per second per aircraft, and possibly much more - could in theory increase Honeywell's market by three to five times, Carl Esposito, vice president of marketing and product management at Honeywell Aerospace, said in an interview.

"It's a big opportunity," he said. Because of the high bandwidth, "it really is transformational across the entire aircraft."

The deal does not rule out or alter other partnerships.

"It is very complementary to the solutions we're already providing," he said.

Honeywell will also sell equipment that connects the aircraft to the satellite.

Honeywell says the agreement will allow it to target a wider range of aircraft, including smaller business and military planes, along with commercial jetliners.

OneWeb says its system will be capable of providing 10 terabits of data per second, and much of that bandwidth will go to ground-based users in developing countries seeking internet access. Aircraft add another, potentially lucrative market, although the prices of OneWeb and Honeywell's services have not been set.

OneWeb does not see a threat from other technology companies that provide global broadband such as Facebook Inc, Google Inc and SpaceX.

"There's an insane appetite for bandwidth," Chief Executive Officer Greg Wyler said. "We're going to make a dent in it with our system. But we're not going to complete it."

OneWeb plans to start launching its small satellites in 2017, placing them about 750 miles above Earth.

The satellites will weigh 275 pounds (125 kilograms) and will be built with a partner. The satellite and launch partners have not been announced.

(Additional reporting by Alexei Oreskovic. Editing by Andre Grenon)