Welcome back, mile-high Wi-Fi: American Airlines has turned on Internet service in its fleet of 15 767-200s today. These aircraft ply routes between New York's JFK and three cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami. Service is $13 per flight, and bandwidth is expected to be 1.5 Mbps (uncompressed) upstream and downstream, although the service provider, Aircell, claims some advantages above that.
This is a big day for Aircell, which spent tens of millions to acquire the exclusive spectrum license that allows them to shoot Mbps to and from planes. My big question will be whether coverage remains seamless across an entire flight--how often one has to reconnect their VPN would be a big issue. If Aircell has architected the network correctly, passengers should never be reassigned an IP address, and connections shouldn't be dropped even if there's a hiccup in air-to-ground communication.
I chatted via Skype--text only, thank you--with Aircell CEO Jack Blumenstein this morning who is quite literally walking on air on an American flight. Blumenstein said it's remarkable even to him to be communicating with other airborne people across "a veritable airforce of AA planes spread out across the skies." Aircell has been working towards this in one form or another for many, many years. And now they get bragging rights at being first, even if it's a pilot project.
I've covered in-flight broadband for several years, and I've been wondering lately whether we'd be waiting until 2009 to see real production service. American is calling this a 3-to-6 month pilot to see what their passengers think. Just yesterday, I wrote up veteran travel writer Joe Brancatelli's frustration with the lack of information and some misinformation about in-flight broadband.
You can read more background on American's plans and Aircell's technology in a post I wrote for BoingBoing on 24-June-2008.
Suzanne Marta of the Dallas Morning News was liveblogging this morning from a flight to Los Angeles, as was Peter Ha at Crunchgear, who measured 1.7 Mbps downstream. Ha's broadband test relies on having no other active users on a network slowing down the test, so the real speeds up and down could be much higher.