Collaboration

Disconnected no more: Wi-Fi when you fly

Aircell, a provider of airborne communications, will be rolling out their new in-flight broadband offering on domestic flights in the next couple of months. Aircell will cover the U.S., delivering mobile broadband service on an exclusive 3-MHz air-to-ground (ATG) frequency to communicate to and from aircraft.

Aircell, a provider of airborne communications, based in Itasca, Illinois, will be rolling out their new in-flight broadband offering on domestic flights in the next couple of months. Yes, mobile broadband while in flight. Aircell will cover the U.S., delivering mobile broadband service on an exclusive 3-MHz air-to-ground (ATG) frequency (which the company won in the FCC's spectrum auction in 2006) to communicate to and from aircraft.

"The airplane is one of the last disconnected places left, if not the only place, where you can't really be on the Internet - until now," says Fran Phillips, Aircell's SVP of Airline Solutions. "This will be a landmark year for air travelers who value staying connected to what matters most." The company recently completed its build-out of the Aircell Network, which covers the U.S., delivering a mobile broadband service. The Aircell Network and its in-flight Internet service, known as Gogo, promises to revolutionize the passenger experience, delivering the Internet at 35,000 feet.

This solution was created with Oakbrook-based service provider generationE Technologies, and combines IBM Tivoli management tools, Tivoli Netcool Omnibus and Impact with the familiar Google Maps visuals to provide a tracking system that manages Web access on a plane-by-plane basis (see illustration in Figure A).

Figure A

Aircell sample

Click to view larger image.

American Airlines wired the first of fifteen aircraft in January to be outfitted with Aircell's mobile broadband hardware and has recently moved into the production phase on the remaining fourteen aircraft. Initially, Aircell will offer the Gogo service to American Airlines' passengers on all of its B767-200 aircraft, which are primarily dedicated to transcontinental flights. Virgin America is also moving to offer in-flight Internet. Virgin America will be bringing mobile broadband service to all of the carrier's passengers later in 2008 and will set another first by integrating with Virgin America's current In-Flight-Entertainment (IFE) system, Red.

So what will this new perk cost? In contrast to earlier pricing of Boeing's now-defunct Connexion service, which was $30 per flight, Aircell's price for Gogo is very affordable. Pricing will be similar to what consumers pay on the ground at a Wi-Fi hot spot with a cup of coffee. At launch, the service will be offered only on longer routes (above three hours in duration) and will be priced at $12.95. In the future, the service on more typical flights can be expected to be around the $10 mark.

Aircell's President and CEO Jack Blumenstein describes the advantages of the air-to-ground system and the company's co-developed solution with generationE by saying, "As the leader in airborne communications for business and commercial aviation, we believe our air-to-ground wireless network is the most economically and technologically sound choice today and in to the future. With the help of generationE, Aircell is able to offer the most reliable, robust, and cost-effective service to airline customers and their passengers."

About

Jeff Cerny has written interviews with top technology leaders for TechRepublic since 2008. He is also the author of Ten Breakable Habits to Creating a Remarkable Presentation.

13 comments
alashhar
alashhar

The airplane is one of the last disconnected places left, if not the only place, where you can???t really be on the Internet - until now,??? says Fran Phillips, Is it overstatement or reality? I have not been in USA, is everywhere you go in USA you have opportunity to browse the Internet? Most of you have mentioned about the effects of mobile device on the airplane elements, so how Fran Phillips or AirCell will overcome it?

mqy1946
mqy1946

It was stated in the article that the frequency to be used for such communication is 3 Mhz, is that right or what is meant is a bandwidth of 3Mhz..because 3 Mhz lies within the HF frequency used by very long distance ground communication where the ionoshere plays a role in reflecting these waves and is usually very unreliable

snelsont
snelsont

Obviously no complete solution to the troubles that airlines have been having, but I truly believe little publicly attractive things like this can give a spark to struggling air transportation.

Brian
Brian

... That now I'm going to be stuck next to a guy talking on his wi-fi phone for the whole trip.

jonybader
jonybader

It seems there are some questions to be answered about this service. If most everyone on a flight tries to use the service at the same time, will the response time be unreasonably poor? Will upgrades to first/business class be a requisite to have enough room to safely operate one's laptop? (In regular coach seats on American, I have no room to operate the keyboard of my 14 inch screen laptop). Currently all wireless devices must be disabled in flight to allegedly prevent interference with the aircraft avionics. What's different that will now permit in-flight wireless usage? Some previous attempts at airplane internet used an on-board server cache to improve response time to commonly requested pages. Will airplane wi-fi performance effectively limit usage to the pre-cached pages? The quoted price is OK if it is per flight and not per hour.

doug.lanksford
doug.lanksford

I can see the upside of Wi-Fi on a plane but surely our lives aren't so sad that we can't find something else to do for the few hours we're on a plane? And what about mobiles? I can think of nothing worse than listening to some bore drone on about his work/life loud enough for all to hear. The plane was the last sanctity for relative peace and quiet - I just hope they stick them all as far away as possible at the rear while I enjoy my magazine and whisky on ice.

wisconsinjn
wisconsinjn

Good article w/ excellent information. The good part is you have access and are accessible all the time.....the bad part...."ditto". Still, I really enjoy having the option.

Selena Frye
Selena Frye

Let me be the first to say that in order for this to be a hit, the planes actually have to get off the ground (ouch!). Nevertheless, are you excited about this development? Would you rather just drink your overpriced Heineken and have a snooze? What are the likely pitfalls of in-flight Wi-Fi?

jeffcerny
jeffcerny

Alashhar - No, this is the reality of it. In most urban and suburban areas anyway, there are any number of places from coffee shops to office supply stores to bookshops with wi-fi either free or for a small fee. Beyond that, PDA's and smartphones with web capability (or a broadband modem on your laptop) can get you connected virtually anywhere else except on a plane. So this is no overstatement - it really is the last place you are not connected... until now. I'd love to travel to northern Africa sometime to see the famous "shores of Tripoli." I hope you'll have the opportunity to come to the US at some point and maybe even use your laptop on the trip over by that time. Regards, Jeff Cerny

jeffcerny
jeffcerny

Good catch - It's actually a 3Mhz bandwidth within the cellular frequency. Jeff Cerny

alameh
alameh

I'm thinking that VoIP services and streaming services would be blocked. There is nothing worse than sharing a connection with a bunch of people pushing a pile of data across the pipe.

jeffcerny
jeffcerny

Aircell has optimized the network to handle a great deal of traffic and that functionality will only get better with time. However, any lag time could depend on what people are using the network for while in flight. The company is taking measures to ensure a great customer experience for everyone. The combination of screen and seating will still be between the passenger and the airline. I'd recommend a PDA. The FAA and FCC can best answer the interference question. The airline partners are very focused on passenger safety during takeoff and landing. Safety is an element of service Aircell wants to help airlines with, not detract from. Pre-caching will not be a limitation. The quoted price for American Airlines is $12.95 for transcontinental flights. Other pricing arrangements are being considered right now and will be announced as soon as they are finalized. Hope this is helpful - Jeff Cerny

takinu2skool12588
takinu2skool12588

This does seem to pose a couple comfortability problems for others on the plane. Continuing with what Doug was saying, I do not feel they could possibly allow people to speak on their phones, even with the service made possible. An airplane already feels like a zoo at times when most people are just trying to lay low. The use of browsing and e-mail funcitons, however, seems of great significance and benefit to those who must stay absolutely current to stay on top of their job.

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