Finally in-flight WiFi has arrived. For those of you like me who’d rather get some emails answered, do a little bit of browsing and VPN access during flight the time has arrived.
This morning American Airlines officially launched their broadband service on 15 nonstop transcontinental flights plus some of their New York-San Francisco, Los Angeles-Miami (all services with Boeing 767-200’s). This service will allow passengers to send e-mail, instant message, access corporate VPN and browse the web while flying. Although a bit pricey ($12.95 for 6 hours), you can now spend your time surfing from 36,000 feet. The system is called Gogo and is run by Aircell. The technology is provided by Aircell as well. You’ll be able to pay for the service when you first open your browser in flight.
A $1 billion market by 2012 is estimated to come into airlines with this kind of service. Delta Airlines is planning on using a similar service American is using. They have promised to outfit all their domestic fleet with WiFi by mid-2009. JetBlue is testing WiFi access on their San Francisco-New York flights. Alaska airlines is actively testing on some of their flights. Southwest Airlines is testing a system that was developed by Row 44 from California. It was just a matter of time, but the other major airlines will now be trying to catch up. Hopefully, they will all see that passengers are willing to use these services.
Currently there are only two different technologies being tried for WiFi in flight:
- The Aircell system leverages the existing cell tower network, is more conventional and uses an air-to-ground service that connects to cell towers. The only problem with this technology is that bandwidth is probably going to be a bit flaky (at least with early versions) as the plane’s comm systems switches from tower, to tower, to tower while moving faster than any normal cell phone user would. No reference was made to the bandwidth available to the passengers.
- The other technology uses satellite communications plus WiFi b (802.11b) access points. It can be implemented in planes, boats or any other vehicle that is expected to be far away from cell towers.
So, what does this mean for us Mobile Users? Well, for one it means we are now able to connect, no matter where we are. I am not sure that prices will come down, but at least if you are in urgent need to connect, you will soon be able to do it from all the major airlines.