Thursday, June 19, 2008

Walt Mossberg Reviews AirCell's InFlight GoGo Service

Wall Street Journal Walt Mossberg reviews AirCell's GoGo service.

Beginning this summer, as soon as next month, wireless Internet access will arrive in the passenger cabins of some commercial U.S. airliners.

On these Internet-equipped planes, any passenger with a Wi-Fi enabled laptop — or a cellphone with Wi-Fi — will be able to do almost everything he or she could do online at home or at the office. That includes surfing the Web, using email, having instant-messenger text chats, downloading and uploading files, and streaming video and audio.gogo

A few Web functions will be offered free from Gogo, including access to the American Airlines Web site, to Frommer’s online travel guides and to a limited selection of articles from The Wall Street Journal.

What other companies should subsidize free Web functions?

On my test flight, download speeds varied from 266 kilobits per second to about 1.4 megabits per second, with the most typical speeds hovering between 500 and 600 kbps. Upload speeds were between 250 and 300 kbps.

Speeds could degrade on a large plane with scores of people online simultaneously.

While AirCell is making all of the aviation broadband headlines, Harris Corp recently announced an Air-to-ground solution (ATG) that has 10xs the capacity at same or lower cost. In most cases they offer 10-50x more bandwidth and 5-100xs lower cost per bit.

Aircell gets Internet access to the planes through a network of 92 towers scattered across North America. These essentially are cellphone towers, carrying a high-speed cellphone data signal, except that the Aircell antennas point up, into the sky. A receiver on the underside of the aircraft picks up the signal, which is then distributed through the plane via Wi-Fi.

AirCell has a few obstacles to overcome:

Limited bandwidth, scalability issues and I'm not sure AirCell's service can be used in Europe or Asia.

In Europe, Lufthansa has announced that with the help of T-Mobile it will be reinstating its broadband service (formerly from Connexion) to its long-haul flights by 2008.

Europe seems to be giving voice the nod as an in-flight service, and more bandwidth will be required. The health of US airlines is also a concern. I would keep an eye on the other aviation broadband players.

Look for a high-speed aviation broadband service to get traction in Europe first.

More Aviation Broadband ponderings.

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