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There's no discount, but you can use your Boingo account to pay for in-flight Internet: This is a nice move, long expected, which links up two popular offerings for business travelers. Boingo has a variety of service offerings which may include either unlimited or high-usage access to various parts of the globe. In North American, their $10-per-month plan provides unlimited use of terrestrial hotspots in the network.
The Gogo connection lets you use the same Boingo software, account, and linked credit card to pay for in-flight Internet access at the same retail rate as other passengers. One would hope Boingo could negotiate a better rate by reducing Gogo's marketing burden to bring customers in the future.
Alaska Airlines says its Gogo Inflight Internet installation on most planes: A handful of aircraft won't feature service, mostly those carrying freight. Facebook access will be free through June, and the airline has a game promotion as well. Alaska charges the same access fees for service as the rest of Aircell's partner airlines, with most users paying $10 or $13 for laptop service for short and long flights, and a few dollars less for handheld (not tablet) service.
Finally: I've been asking the question for several years: when will media servers on planes be used to provide in-flight entertainment over Wi-Fi? The answer is now. Aircell told me years ago that they had provisioned the ability to put media servers on planes, and were waiting for pieces to fall into place. Its public trial with American Airlines on a couple of 767-200s will start this summer.
It's a logical connection that when you have people on a local, high-speed wireless network that you could deliver content to them for free and for a fee. Given that the majority (sometimes entirety) of people on a flight have some kind of device with a screen, why build in miles of wire and clunky seatback entertainment systems?
One of the best, Virgin American's Red, is still slow, hard to navigate, and of poor quality relative to even the worst tablet or netbook. Alaska Airlines never installed such systems for reasons of cost, and rents its digEplayer instead—a portable tablet preloaded and precharged.
An airline that moves away from seatback systems and into passenger-provided hardware could also stock tablets for rental, now that there will be ready availability of a variety of sizes and capabilities that handle video playback well, and which cost relatively little compared to custom systems like the digEplayer.
This could also eliminate live satellite feeds by providing time-delayed playback on demand. Imagine that when a plane comes to a halt and the doors are opened that a system at each gate starts a high-speed 802.11n transfer of several hours of news and other recent sports, talk shows, and network programs. There's something nice about "live," but there's also the reality of operational cost and antenna drag.
Aircell and American haven't announced which programs and movies will be available nor the cost or other particulars.
Some palpable numbers: Air Transport World quotes US Airways president saying that usage averages below 5 percent of passengers on flights, and breakeven is above 20 percent. They only have the service on about 50 planes (their Airbus A321s), which lack power outlets. By only covering part of their fleet, as opposed to Delta which has full coverage on mainline planes, they may undermine patterns of usage that build up over time.
United Continental plans to put LiveTV's satellite-backed Wi-Fi on 200 planes: United says it's signed a letter of intent with LiveTV to bring Ka-band satellite-backed Wi-Fi service onto over 200 of its 737 and 757 planes starting in 2012. United only offers service now (via Aircell's Gogo) on 14 aircraft.
Why 2012? The satellite that LiveTV will use hasn't been launched yet. From previous experience with the long delays in Inmarsat's 4G BGAN satellite launches, betting on having a bird in orbit is fraught with difficulties.
This all seems a bit odd. Next year is a long way off when competitors like Delta have Wi-Fi today. Relying on an unlaunched satellite is tricky, coupled with a firm that doesn't yet provide Internet service, and with the "over 200" and "starting in 2012" qualifiers. United won't have substantial Internet service on its planes until 2013 or 2014 based on all these factors.
It's a way to issue a press release like something is happening.
The letter of intent part is interesting, too. Alaska had a letter of intent with Row 44, but ultimately opted for Aircell instead. Connexion by Boeing had many letters of intent; few were executed.
You'll probably read breathless headlines about this today: Boeing found in testing a particular Honeywell system with its 737NG jets that the LCD screen went blank momentarily when systems were subjected to more Wi-Fi signal output than a plane full of passengers. This kind of testing is typical, and it shouldn't be worrisome. Modern avionic equipment is hardened against EMF radiation from other sources, and one might guess the Honeymoon component in question needs additional design checking.
This won't affect planes in the air, and doesn't repudiate the testing previously done aircraft model by aircraft model for certifying Wi-Fi use.
Leading in-flight Internet provider Aircell provides roadmap for future speeds: Aircell currently relies in its commercial aviation deployment on the CDMA standard EVDO Rev. A, nearly identical to the ground cellular tech used by Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel for their 3G CDMA networks. The flavor Aircell employs works over a narrow set of frequencies that the firm won a license to at auction a few years ago. Aircell can routinely bring a couple of Mbps downstream (from the Internet into the aircraft) per plane, and push hundreds of Kbps back up.
As usage increases, which is the necessity for the capital cost of running such a business, so, too, does the requirement for more bandwidth. Aircell's plan is to migrate to the backwards-compatible EVDO Rev. B, which has substantially greater efficiency for the same spectrum. This will be combined with what Aircell describes as "dual modem" and "directional antenna." Aircell says this will provide four times its current bandwidth. While I don't have guidance from the company, "dual modem" likely refers to using polarization of signals to allow frequency reuse over space. Directional antennas are certainly a refinement on its current air-to-ground antenna approach that reduces the signal loss involved.
In previous conversations with Aircell, the firm discussed its interest in LTE (Long Term Evolution), the fourth-generation standard being employed by Verizon Wireless and AT&T in the US, and many carriers worldwide, to enhance wireless broadband speeds by several factors. EVDO Rev. B is a better short-term choice because of its backwards compatibility. Future EVDO revisions may not be in the cards because of the world's shift from Qualcomm's CDMA roadmap (its in-house 4G standard has been abandoned). But the Rev. B version may have enough efficiency for the available bandwidth that the LTE switch isn't cost effective for the gain.
Aircell also discussed its future satellite backhaul plans. Aircell has spoken in the past about using Ku-band satellites, the sectorized geostationary birds that once powered Connexion, and now provide service to Row 44 and Panasonic—as well as deliver satellite TV to the US among many other uses. Aircell announced plans to use Ka-band satellites, a different frequency range and class, to deliver backhaul to the US in 2013 and worldwide by 2015. Aircell currently cannot offer service on most overwater routes, and would likely also have areas of missing coverage as it expands in the western hemisphere to pass over less-populated regions. In the interim, Aircell will build Ku-band service for airlines flying outside North America.
The reason Aircell discloses this kind of information publicly isn't for the benefits of the industry or passengers (or competitors). It's to make sure the market is absolutely clear on the fact that the only company in the world with a substantial number of planes equipped with in-flight broadband has a clear plan for how it's going to retain its position. Its airline partners have long known about this. This is posturing. And I love it, because it's full of rich, creamy technological goodness.
Norwegian airline opts for Row 44: Norwegian Air Shuttle is a tiny carrier, and has one plan equipped. Nonetheless, it gets European bragging rights for being the first to offer full in-flight Internet service. The airline chose Row 44, which is a satellite-backed offering, using modern Ku-band equipments.
In trials, the service will be free. The airline will put Row 44's service on 11 planes by mid-year, 21 by the end of 2011, and 41 by the end of 2012. Pricing isn't yet set, nor are routes confirmed.
The Boston Globe reports fourfold increase in Boston-Logan Wi-Fi use: The airport dropped fees for Wi-Fi last year, and saw a 412 percent increase in 2010 use over that in 2009: 1.4m sessions instead of 350,000.
Remember Massport's stupid multi-year battle, a large waste of public funds, against allowing airline lounges to offer free Wi-Fi? Seems even sillier four years after the FCC smacked down the airport authority over its dubious claims.
The major operator of in-flight Internet gets more cash on hand: I've raised concerns about the uptake rate needed by Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet service to produce the revenue required to return a profit. But it's also been clear that not enough detail has ever been exposed to know Aircell's cost sharing with airlines, nor its ongoing costs.
Whatever those may be—and I don't suggest the firm was in a cash crunch—Aircell has $35m more in its pocket to keep operations running for whatever period of time that will cover. Certainly, Aircell needs capital to build out in Canada and (eventually) Mexico and the Caribbean.
Aircell's CEO spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle, which said he "declined to offer financial details, but said that the company has made major financial improvements and is on the 'path to profitability.'"
I just used Gogo on my trip mid-day down to the Macworld 2011 conference 10 days ago, and it was invaluable as always. I finished projects, kept up on email, and arrived without having anything on my plate to deal with.
Updated: A Bloomberg report on Monday suggests an initial public offering is planned, and says Aircell has raised $600m to date, a staggering sum, but not surprising for building a nationwide cellular network (albeit pointing up), ground station operations, and equipping planes at as much as $100,000 a pop.
Ford sponsors free Facebook on Gogo Inflict Internet in February: All of the airlines offering Aircell's Gogo service are part of the promotion, which puts Facebook outside the paywall. Google has sponsored free service at various times at airports and on planes to promote its offerings.
Aircell should love this deal, because it will expose potentially millions of casual travelers to a service that they might otherwise see as expensive, impossible, or uninteresting. Because in-flight Internet had a big flame-out with Connexion by Boeing (which worked just fine but didn't make its numbers), many people may carry the notion that mile-high Wi-Fi doesn't work and isn't worth messing with.
By providing Facebook access, the "number one website visited by travelers using Gogo," Aircell says, Gogo trains people to want the service in the future. I expect this pumps numbers way up in subsequent months, especially for mobile access.
Personal electronics might cause interference with airplane avionics, but there's seemingly no proof: For unknown reasons, the New York Times trots out a story that could have been written at nearly any point in the last five years about the potential for personal electronics to interact with avionics (airplane electronics and control systems) to deleterious effect.
I've followed this story for years, and there's no new information in this piece. Over a decade, the only association of passenger gear and cockpit trouble is from "at least 10" reports by pilots in the United States, all of which are anecdotal, and, ostensibly, none of which have proven repeatable. If they were repeatable, we'd have different restrictions and rules, instead of ever-fewer ones.
The article notes the study done with the permission of the FAA and airlines that showed there was always at least one cell phone on during a flight, if not more than one. Today, one would guess that dozens of electronics are actively seeking and producing signals in a standby mode.
Occam's Razor would suggest that avionic disruption would be commonplace with the sheer quantity and variety of devices across every plane model currently in operation. This has not occurred. The article doesn't discuss that disconnect between concern, repeatability, and reality.
Canada's licenseholder for air-to-ground in-flight Internet has set mid-2011 launch date: The service was supposed to be ready in late 2010, but SkySurf Canada Communications is now targeting mid-2011. Because of Canadian spectrum rules, US provider Aircell, which operates its Gogo Inflight Internet service on over 1,000 aircraft while they pass over the continental US and Alaska, couldn't bid on Canadian service. Instead, it's partnered with SkySurf.
Washington Dulles and Reagan National will drop fees for Wi-Fi access in the spring: Contractual details remain to be worked out, this report says in the Washington Examiner. Dulles and National add to the growing list of major US airports that have dropped fees, starting with Denver as the largest.
T-Mobile customers get substantially improved airport access, plus ferries: A new agreement between Boingo Wireless and T-Mobile gives T-Mobile's subscribers a lot more access in transit. T-Mobile adds 53 Boingo Wireless airport locations; Boingo is the largest North American Wi-Fi airport operator.
T-Mobile users can now also surf on the Washington State Ferry system at no additional cost. For the tens of thousands of daily ferry commuters--WSF handles over 50 percent of the country's daily ferry trips--T-Mobile just became a lot more attractive.
Boingo gets a little bit in exchange: its subscribers can use T-Mobile's airline club lounge and hotel locations. T-Mobile–operated airports were previously included in roaming.
Lufthansa announces new Wi-Fi in the sky service, FlyNet: Lufthansa was the biggest adopter of Connexion by Boeing in the early part of last decade, and wanted to reach an accommodation to keep it running when Boeing shut it down. The airline has been looking for the right partner to bring service back ever since, and Panasonic Avionics has come through. Panasonic started talking about relaunching a Connexion-like Ku-band satellite service in September 2006, even before Boeing down in-flight service (see "Panasonic May Relaunch Connexion," 19 September 2006).
Although the exact plane count isn't set, Lufthansa said it will equip almost all of its intercontinental craft, having service in place on all such planes by the end of 2011. It's possible that Boeing's Connexion retrofitting may make it cheaper to put in Panasonic's gear, too. The service starts with Internet access via Wi-Fi, although GSM/GPRS access (via an onboard picocell) will be added "in the future."
The pricing is quite aggressive. €19.95 or 7,000 Lufthansa air miles get you 24 hours of unlimited access across any equipped Lufthansa flight and in the airline's lounges. The hourly price is €10.95, which seems crazily high, but they want to push you to pay the 24-hour rate as a sweet spot. Lufthansa's long-haul flights can range from five hours to well over a dozen.
Service will be free until 31 January 2011, but the press release doesn't say when the first Flugzeug with restored access will take off.
(I wanted to write the headline: "Drahtlose Internet und Lufthansa Wiedervereinigen!" but I realized only five readers would get the joke.)
This is a big shift in in-flight Wi-Fi: Delta is taking a big move in expanding its already extensive Wi-Fi coverage. Delta committed to full mainline fleet coverage—these are the larger planes that carry more passengers and typically fly longer routes—but regional jets seemed less likely. Shorter routes with smaller numbers of passengers would make it seem quite difficult to get a return on the investment.
Nonetheless, Delta has plans to put Gogo Inflight Internet on 223 of the Delta Connection subsidiary and partner aircraft. The planes have between about 65 and 76 seats, according to Delta's press release. More critically, all the planes have first-class sections, and the commitment appears to be put Wi-Fi service on all routes with first-class service.
It's possible that the investment is relatively low compared to the customer loyalty it may engender. Those who want continuous Internet access across a route, and who are more likely to buy or upgrade into first class may be so valuable that the amount realized in additional seats purchased and higher fares (as regional service is often not as competitive as national routes) is where the revenue comes from to balance the accounts.
Delta currently has over 700 mainline aircraft in operation, and 549 of those have Internet service installed. The regional jets will receive Internet service during 2011.
American Honda Motor is sponsoring free Wi-Fi on Alaska Airlines: The offer is good until 9 December.
Google has opted to underwrite free Wi-Fi over the holiday season on three airlines: AirTran, Delta, and Virgin America will offer free Wi-Fi from 20 November 2010 to 2 January 2011 under Google's sponsorship. Delta is, by far, the largest of the three airlines, and has hundreds of planes equipped. It's a promotion for the Google Chrome browser, which may a branding campaign in anticipation of devices appearing that run the Google Chrome OS.
The NewScientist asks if in-flight Wi-Fi or cell use might be banned after Yemeni-originated bombs: Wi-Fi seems unlikely to be disabled for security reasons. A compatriot would be required on board to navigate the login process with an account or credit card, or a script would have to be written to handle that. It seems rather complicated and prone to failure. Otherwise, a compatriot would need to be on board, in which case the compatriot could trigger the event.
There's one potential for danger, which is DNS tunneling. Devicescape and other authentication systems work at hotspots by sending particular DNS queries through to remote servers that respond with information in special text records that can provide login credentials and other information. DNS is proxied and often scrubbed for hotspots, however, and I suspect that Aircell figured this out in advance.
On the cell side, only a handful of planes in Europe and the Middle East are flying with picocells on board that can be used to establish a phone connection via a satellite data link. A number of elements would also need to be in place for a remote connection to be established. A timer or air-to-ground cell link would be much more reliable.
I expect that authorities will scrutinize in-flight cell and Wi-Fi service for additional weaknesses, but I doubt any ban will be put in place.