Fly With Wi-Fi
Internet has long been a necessity for many since the advent of the world wide web. Accessing the Internet is no longer confined to just using computers; even your mobile phones can allow you to send that important email to your colleague. But what happens when you (or your boss) suddenly decide to pack your bags and ship you off to an island, whether for a well-earned dream vacation or for a business conference and the only option is to travel by plane? Do you really have to bid a transitory good bye to your online responsibilities at least for the time being? Well, put that thought of impossibility to rest right now. Sure, in 2006, Boeing’s Connexion service shut down in its fresh attempt to offer in-flight Wi-Fi, but that did not mean Internet connection in the air will be entirely distant.
ATG connections Despite the lack of in-flight access in all planes, a bulk of major airlines have opted to be partners of third-party providers. As an example, Aircell’s Gogo services uses air-to-ground (ATG) connections. Gogo works only in continental United States at present time, but the process which allows data to be sent over a high-speed Internet connection to towers on the ground proved to be an effective one. Additionally, to be able to use Gogo, the user will need a web browser, from which he signs in to connect directly to the Internet. Good thing is, most laptops, phones, and portable game units can connect, given that the gadget uses 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. Gogo however, blocks (no, the network capacity is not the rub) VoIP or voice over Internet protocol, since the system can detect voice data, discouraging phone conversations (to maintain a tranquil flight among travelers). Not all voice calls though, can be blocked. Another dilemma is the fettered Internet access when the plane flies over a body of water, since the technology relies heavily on tower coverage.
Following suit Other major airlines have joined the Wi-Fi bandwagon, too. An example is American Airlines which rolled out Gogo on 767-200 planes with coast-to-coast routing amounting to $13 a pop. Less than three hours flights are cheaper at $10. Next summer, patrons of Delta are going to enjoy the newly-installed Gogo. By the end of this year, Virgin America flights are looking to have the same Internet service available to travelers. US Airways is set to try the service this fall. Some would even go as far developing its own ATG system, just like JetBlue subsidiary LiveTV which put together Kiteline. Kiteline, which provides limited access to e-mail and instant messaging is free, and will even permit users to shop on Amazon. For starters, this is already available on one plane which is the BetaBlue. Starting in January, Kiteline complimentary service is going to be offered to some Continental 737s.
Satellite connections Another alternative being explored at this point is using satellite connections, being inspired by Boeing’s Connexion service. Through this system, antennas on the planes send information directly to orbiting satellites, bypassing ground towers. One such service Row 44 (which is touted to be twice as fast as Gogo). Similar to Gogo, gadgets using 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi can connect using Row 44. Unlike Gogo, Row 44’s service allows both VoIP and mobile phone roaming which, is openly challenged by the Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Communications Commission as they currently ban cell phone usage during flights. The commission even went so far as to propose a legislation explicitly barring all voice calls on planes. At present, Row 44 works with Southwest and Alaska Airlines. Incidentally, neither of the two airlines plans to enable VoIP.
Rules of thumb As with most evolving technology, in-flight Wi-Fi may not necessarily affect the aircraft systems, but questions of security and discretion could be matters of concern. For one, it is logical and smart to protect sensitive documents and data in the course of the travel. And for another, some sensitive sites (i.e. adult sites) are better viewed somewhere more private and appropriate as a sign of respect to your more prudish neighbors.