Monday, October 17, 2011

Airplane WiFi Possible, But When?

In an everyday setting where we are connected twenty-four-by-seven to the Internet, we get all the updates and news items in a snap of a finger. But what happens when our company decides to send us from Manila to the United States to work on something with the client?

We dread the flight for being too long and without anything to do except to sleep, eat, watch shows, sleep, eat, and so forth. Being connected online gives us the security of never getting bored, because our world seems to be extended when we are plugged in.

Many times during travels, one can’t stop to wonder when the Philippine airplane fleets would start investing on getting us on-board with a service offering of a WiFi connection. We’d stop and think, and ask ourselves, “will that be even possible?”, and if yes, “perhaps that will cost so much for the airline and its passengers.”

The US tells us, it is possible. More than six years ago, Connexion by Boeing spent billions in development and tried it with several airlines overseas. Because the equipment needed was too heavy and too costly, it ultimately failed in summer of 2006.

Time passed, that has all changed. At present there are two companies, Aircell’s GoGo and Row 44, which most US airlines are using to provide airplane WiFi service. GoGo uses a ground-based cellular data network for data communications, while Row 44 uses satellite communications.

GoGo basically searches for a ground-based network under the plane and continuously selects the best one as the plane moves. Its technology is like what our mobile phone does with data networks while we move on the road.

On the other hand, Row 44 utilizes a satellite-based connectivity system that sends signal to ground earth stations in order to connect to the Internet. The satellite antenna is connected atop a plane, so it can communicate to satellites and other electronic devices inside the cabin.

Both providers allow any device with 802.11b/g/n capability to connect to the Internet at a price starting from $4.95 and up. It enables in-flight passengers to surf, send and receive emails, chat, and even send SMS online. However, VOIP calls are automatically dropped, because it has not been allowed. Besides, who would want to have noisy seatmates?

Row 44 Satellite System on top of the airplane
While both GoGo and Row 44 are said to be reliable, I’d prefer to go for the latter. In my opinion, satellite-based broadband can bring more stable and uninterrupted coverage anywhere – even across national boundaries and oceans. In addition, bandwidth can be increased if there is a need to.

Gogo antenna located below the airplane

In-flight wireless internet connections are so in demand elsewhere, because it draws more passengers. The big question is, when will the airlines of the Philippines realize its importance and when are they going to allot funds for it? Our country needs to keep up with developments and technologies, because we deserve it too.

This article is my 36th contribution to Manila Bulletin -- one of the Philippines' leading broadsheets -- published on October 12, 2011 (Wednesday) in the Tech101 Section. You can view the PDF version here.

Photo Source: Google Images, Row 44 Website, Gogo Website


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