WiFi in the Sky: In-flight Internet Almost Here

In-flight InternetPlenty of buzz is a flutter today on the news that airlines will soon have in-flight Internet access. Back in April of this year, the same buzz existed. Here’s a quick summary of what’s new today plus an overview of other details released earlier this year:

Airline News Today:

  • JetBlue Airways will launch limited email and instant messaging services for free on one of its planes. The first test will be on December 11. Citing “bandwidth constraints,” Internet and e-mail attachments won’t be allowed. The basic email and instant messaging will be limited to Yahoo.
  • A company called Aircell, which specializes in in-flight Internet infrastructure, has partnerships with American Airlines and Virgin America and hopes to install its equipment on an American 767-200 later this month. However, it’s unknown when full Internet access will actually become available for in-flight consumers. It’s predicted that it will be ready to use by early spring 2008.

More Details from Earlier Coverage:

  • Airlines are still deciding on cost structure but are likely to go with pricing models similar to WiFi offerings on the ground, something around $10 per day. And customers that are already part of existing service programs like T-Mobile, iPass and Boingo will likely receive additional discounts.
  • Details on the speed are sketchy, but it’s supposed to be about the same as WiFi service on the ground.
  • AirCell has plans to block voice calls over the Internet (i.e. Skype), except for pilots, flight attendants, and air marshals.

What About In-flight Cellphone Usage?

  • Using cellphones in the air will likely take longer to be implemented. This is mostly due to strong consumer opposition. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considered lifting a ban on cellphones in the sky but recommended ending that consideration after more than 8,000 consumer complaints.
  • Internet access in-flight may be the priority in the U.S., but cellular service is likely to come even earlier in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Opposition in these areas appears to be minimal.
  • Even if cellphone usage happens in plans, the current technology is limited in capacity. Only 14 calls or fewer can take place simultaneously. So the fifteen person to make a call would get a “no signal” message.

And for those who missed the related news in the last couple days, some airlines are now letting you use your cellphone as a boarding pass.

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