With Wi-Fi becoming more readily available during flights, it helps to know what you're signing up for. Tom Merritt tells you five things you need to know about airplane Wi-Fi.
Flying at hundreds of miles per hour in a metal tube can be disconcerting for some people. That's why airplane Wi-Fi is so great—it helps distract you from the obviously impossible thing you're doing. But is airplane Wi-Fi a good idea? Is it worth the sometimes hefty cost? Here are five things to know about airplane Wi-Fi.
SEE: Streaming media policy (Tech Pro Research)
- Assume it's not secure. Even secure connections on airplane Wi-Fi have been caught using fake certificates. Think of this connection like a coffee shop or a hotel—a really risky coffee shop or hotel at that. Anybody on the plane could potentially see your data.
- Good news: You CAN use a VPN. Most of the time. It's officially supported by Gogo, who provide the majority of Wi-Fi on planes in the US, but people often have trouble getting it to connect, especially if it's not an enterprise-level VPN. Using TCP over port 443 tends to work best for most people.
- Streaming video is now possible. Though maybe not always probable. Newer equipment can theoretically get up to 70 Mbps; however, your mileage may vary. I bought the "streaming video" capable connection on a recent flight, and not all video services that I tried worked, though that might be because of whitelisting, as much as speed.
- It's available over water. Most airplane Wi-Fi services formerly used ground towers, so where there was no ground, there was no Wi-Fi. Newer services use satellites, so you can now surf the web on that long flight from LA to Tokyo.
- It slows your plane down and makes it burn extra fuel. The systems are getting more aerodynamic, so this is less of a problem than it used to be. Just keep in mind that an airplane without a Wi-Fi antenna is that much more fuel efficient.
Now you can get online on the way to your destination, doing what you do best, in the friendly skies.
Note: This marks Tom Merritt's 100th episode of TechRepublic's Top 5.
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