Thursday, October 21, 2021

WiFi in the Sky!

August 15, 2008 by · 3 Comments 

As if WiFi at home, at work, in the park, at your local cafe and even public restrooms wasn’t enough, Delta has officially announced that WiFi will be available across it’s entire domestic mainline fleet in the continental United States. Although American Airlines and Virgin America have also announced WiFi service, Delta is the first, and seemingly only, carrier to have committed their entire domestic fleet.

Delta, as well as American Airlines and Virgin America, will be using Aircell’s Gogotm service. Unlike past failed attempts by Boeing and Conexion, who used satellite communications, Aircell uses a three tiered ground-based network. The first tier is rather simple, it is, for all intents and purposes, a cellular network. Aircell has deployed over 70 towers, or base stations, across the continental United States. The second tier is each individual plane which connects to these base stations/towers via on-board equipment using EV-DO Rev A. If we remember the FCC auctions in 2006, Aircell outbid every major carrier for a 3MHz air-to-ground spectrum. This is the very spectrum in use for communication between the individual airplanes and the base stations on the ground. The third tier is several plain old 802.11b/g WiFi base stations inside each airplane.

I, for one, am fond of this model. It’s simple, and it employs technologies that we use on a regular basis, minus the whole air-to-ground thing of course. However, it seems to be that it could work great. Aircell advertises speeds to each passenger “in the neighborhood of 1Mbit/s downstream.” In storage terms that’s roughly 125KBytes/s. I see you complaining, while on your 30Mbit/s connection at home, but think about it: on a three hour flight? You can catch up on email, instant message with friends… Yea, there’s just no running away from the internet, at all!

The service, OF COURSE, will NOT be free for passengers. So far it looks like the service will be introduced at $9.95 for flights up to three hours, and $12.95 for flights over three hours. Not too shabby, I don’t mind shelling out a Hamilton for some WiFi on my next flight to South Beach.

I am a bit excited to finally see these technologies in use on commercial airliners (translation: flights I can afford). There are a few questions that come to mind:

1) What will be the true download speeds? We all know that an increased number of connections is going to severely degrade network performance. I don’t know how many private planes are using Gogotm, or how many passengers use the service on those planes, but Aircell is going to have a major surge in usage when 300+ Delta planes begin using the service with each carrying over 100+ passengers. Granted, some statistics are involved, but I still don’t believe 1Mbit/s is plausible.

2) Internet on planes? Does that mean the annoying passenger next to me get’s to browse his favorite porn sites? I assume that Aircell is doing some level of content filtering and maybe even some firewall-ing. Will I be able to SSH and/or FTP to my favorite servers? or perhaps Remote Desktop to my Virtual Center server and manage my entire Virtual Machine infrastructure from 30,000 feet?

3) VoIP? I know, it’s a bit much, but you can push VoIP traffic over EV-DO Rev A. Can I call grandma using my SoftPhone from 30,000 feet?

4) Privacy Issues. How secure are those WiFi base stations on each airplane? Can that stupid script kiddy sitting in 13-C hack into my laptop? What is Aircell tracking? I assume I typed my credit card in somewhere and they have tied that to the IP i am given and thus they can track what sites I go to. Do I care? Can/will they use that against me?

5) As this service get’s more popular I want to see perhaps a monthly subscription model. YES Brady I know I don’t travel THAT much, but I’m speaking out for the people that do. What about free WiFi on commuter flights? or partnerships with other service providers to include services. Like if you have an iPhone you get free WiFi on Delta flights (hint, hint).

6) The Continental US is cool, Canada, Mexico, those are all easy. I want to see transcontinental flights with WiFi, done right. Satellite communications tend to be terrible, and expensive. Boeing and Conexion were both satellite based. There has to be a clever, simple, and efficient way to do it. Maybe a Mesh Network? ala OLPC? The more planes in the air the stronger it is? Hmm…

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Aircell’s Gogotm check out their website at
Delta plans to have Gogotm installed on all their domestic planes by the end of 2009. Check out the Aircell/Delta press release on Aircell’s website, click here.

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