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U.S. Airlines to Offer In-Air Wi-Fi 252

Posted by Zonk
from the careful-stewardess-i-am-blogging-this dept.
"Within the next year, US Airlines are going to be offering Wi-Fi service onboard flights. VoiP calls will be banned initially, but the article mentions that lifting the ban on cellphones may still be a possibility. 'AirCell will install equipment on airliners that will act as a WiFi hotspot in the cabin and connect to laptop computers and devices like BlackBerrys that have WiFi chips. In all, it will cost about $100,000 to outfit a plane with less than 100 pounds of equipment, and the work can be done overnight by airline maintenance workers, AirCell says. What makes the service particularly attractive to airlines is that they will share revenue with AirCell. The service will cost about the same as existing WiFi offerings. Mr. Blumenstein says it will charge no more than $10 a day to passengers. It will also offer discounted options for customers and tie into existing service programs like T-Mobile, iPass and Boingo. Speeds will be equivalent to WiFi service on the ground.'"
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U.S. Airlines to Offer In-Air Wi-Fi

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  • by Kranfer (620510) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @02:43PM (#18591703) Homepage Journal
    I can't say how happy reading this made me. I tend to travel a lot, and as such, I never get to use my laptop in flight because really... airlines suck at technological upkeep. out of the 25 flights I have taken in the last 18 months, I have been on ONE plane with some sort of airline adapter to plug into for power... Hopefully now when I get into first class I will be able to be online, and actually have power to keep my energy hungry machine going for awhile. Woohoo!
    • by FunOne (45947) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @02:45PM (#18591735)
      Maybe you should try a bit harder to pick your flights & airlines. American Airlines has seat power on all of its airplanes.

      This should help:
      http://www.seatguru.com/ [seatguru.com]
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by kkwst2 (992504)
        Umm, no. I flew 4 times in the past two weeks on AA. One of them was an America West flight. But the rest were regular AA. None of them had seat power in coach. Maybe 1st class.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by tdischino (398464)
          AW = no, AA = yes. Not in every row in coach, usually alternating rows, extending about 2/3s of the way back. There is usually a visual indicator next to the row number on the overhead if there is in-seat power. The power jack is like a car lighter, with a flip up cover over it. Most laptop manufacturers sell an adapted power cord for this.
      • by Ucklak (755284)
        Even according to your link, there is only power every 4th row after 15 on AA.
        • by Andy Dodd (701)
          I've flown AA a number of times in the past few years, always on a plane with power available in some rows, but never in a row that actually had power.
    • by PitaBred (632671)
      Perhaps you should look into a non-energy-hungry machine? I have a 14" laptop that includes a GeForce Go7600 and a Core 2 Duo 2.16GHz, 2GB of RAM, and it runs for 3 hours on battery, when I'm not cranking down on performance stuff. Almost 2 hours watching a DVD.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by blueskies (525815)
        Denver to Boston is a 3hr 40 minute flight and that isn't the whole way across the country.
  • by Al Dimond (792444) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @02:45PM (#18591727) Journal
    I hope phone calls stay banned. Airline flights are bad enough without having to listen to one side of a hundred phone conversations.
    • by ingo23 (848315) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @03:19PM (#18592359)
      Will it help if I turn the speakerphone on?
    • by peipas (809350) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @03:22PM (#18592417)
      The Onion said it best [theonion.com] the last time this issue came up: "If they lift the ban on cell-phone use, they better lift the ban on passengers beating the shit out of each other, too."
    • Good luck to the airlines in banning SSH or VPN to use a home VoIP server to send/receive calls.
      • sub service_passengers {
        foreach my $passenger (@passengers) {
        if (passenger_talking_on_phone($passenger)) {
        stewardess_action($passenger,PHONE_USE);
        }
        }
        }

        sub stewardess_action {

        my $passenger = shift;
        my $action = shift;

        switch ($action) {
        case EMPTY_GLASS:
        fill_glass();
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I hope phone calls stay banned. Airline flights are bad enough without having to listen to one side of a hundred phone conversations.

      Have they taken the seat back phones off all the planes, too? If not I can just put on a headset so I can use skype or what have you, and hold the phone up to my head to make it look like I'm using it.

      Last time I checked, the reason the airlines didn't want cellphones on planes was so they could force you to use their in-flight phones which cost dollars per minute.

    • I know the parent sounds like common sense, but cell phones are *not* banned on Amtrak trains in the US (except in the 'quiet car') and people are generally considerate. There will always be those who abuse the opportunity, but that's not a good enough reason for a total ban.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by element-o.p. (939033)
      Nah. Any geek worth his salt will just establish an SSH tunnel to his home network and run his VoIP call through the tunnel :)

      But at least then you would only have interesting calls (for geeks, anyway).
      • "Wi-Fi internet access" means "sandboxed and filtered web access over 802.11".

        New technology, after all, needs to be beaten into submission before it's deployed to ensure it has no impact on existing revenue streams. The idea of allowing a new technology to (along with it's primary function) make an existing revenue generator obsolete because it would make that new technology popular enough to more than make up for revenue losses is the MBA's equivalent of a Roman numeral zero.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by timeOday (582209)
          I doubt the connection will be good enough for VOIP, but I also doubt they can block it. They would have to prevent all secure communications. That would exclude email (yes, at least 99% of business are smart enough to require VPN or at least ssl for email access).
      • by mpe (36238)
        Any geek worth his salt will just establish an SSH tunnel to his home network and run his VoIP call through the tunnel :)

        Or a "road warrior" who's machine automatically makes a VPN connection...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    A jerk talking on his cellphone while I'm trying to enjoy a quiet plane ride.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vertinox (846076)
      A jerk talking on his cellphone while I'm trying to enjoy a quiet plane ride.

      Personally, I'd rather have a cell phone jerk on a plane sitting next to me than a screaming child ten rows away from me.

      Of course with the "THINK OF CHILDREN!" attitude, no one throws unruly children off the plane. Oh wait... They did once [msn.com]

      But I personally wish people they would have an airline that allowed only those 10 or older and charge a bit more. I don't know why movie theaters do that either...
  • by mdobossy (674488) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @02:45PM (#18591741)
    Imagine a 5 hour cross country flight, sitting next to some idiot yapping at the top of his voice on his cell phone. That after having to strip down, empty your bags, and submit to a body cavity search just to get through security. That cross country road trip is sounding better and better every day...
  • I've been curious for a while about mobile phones versus laptops on planes. We have to turn the phones off, but who even thinks to turn off the 802.11 or Blue Tooth in their laptop? Perhaps the 2.4GHz range doesn't coincide with navigational frequencies or something.
    • I've been on many flights where they specifically tell you to turn off the wireless radios in your portable devices.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      the cell phones mess up the cell towers at that hight / speed
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Morgor (542294)
      Well, 802.11b/g doesn't mess up the navigational systems, but 802.11a does, if you have any of that legacy equipment. It uses 5.5Ghz which is also the spectre in which radar is broadcasted. This is also the frequency many unlicensed WiMAX connections used, although primarily in countries where the original 3.5ghz spectrum is not available for licensing.
      • by Belial6 (794905) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @03:29PM (#18592559)
        I have a hard time believing that. If a WiMAX connection messed up airline naviagtion, the towers on the ground would be screwing them up whether a device was on the plane or not. Now, I know that they are not a definitive source of info, but the Mythbusters episode where they tried to interfere with an planes instruments with cell phones and other radio equipment, they showed that it is just not going to happen. They had to do some pretty serious work to get the plane's equipment to a state that it could be affected by non-intentional interference. Look at it this way. If you could crash an airplane by hitting it with consumer level radio waves, don't you think we would be seeing a lot more planes going down? Why take a shoe bomb on a plane. Just turn on a battery operated radio transmitter.
  • sweet (Score:3, Funny)

    by mastershake_phd (1050150) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @02:47PM (#18591775) Homepage
    So all I need is a big antenna in my backyard and some tracking software and I can have free wifi!
  • Now I can play Metroid: Prime Hunters and other DS multiplayer games online!
    • by bilbravo (763359)
      If the service is like those in most hotspots, where you get into a proxy and have to enter CC info at a website, I doubt you'll be able to play your DS... Boo Nintendo for not including a browser. I also would enjoy some DS wifi on the plane!
  • by vivaoporto (1064484) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @02:48PM (#18591785)
    Playing counter-strike will now be even more realistic. Imagine the kids screaming "haha, I'm going to blow this plane, you faggots!!!11" inside the plane. And the real CT squad goes berserker and pull their weapons. Pure pwnage!
    • by raehl (609729)
      Sure would be funny to freak out the passenger next to you by constantly playing cs_747.
  • Spam at 10,000 feet!
    • 10000 ft is kind of low, unless you're talking about a relatively short fight. The flights I've taken (OH to WA and OH to AZ) generally cruise at 30000 ft.
  • The DEFINITIVE guide to Airline WiFi and Internet Access [otbeach.com].

    Not so new. Rather than true progress this is merely a catch up.
  • by Daishiman (698845) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @02:51PM (#18591883)
    What's the point of banning VoIP? How is a VoIP packet different from any other packet? A VPN or an SSH tunnel is all you need to thwart that.
  • Nice try, no donut! (Score:3, Informative)

    by zappepcs (820751) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @02:53PM (#18591907) Journal
    I seriously don't think that $10 per day for WiFi connection will satisfy the stockholders/investors.
    $4,500,000,000 - At only $100k per plane x 4500 planes that fly in the North America area. (guess)
    $xx millions - Wireless spectrum

    Well, even with simplified math, that works out to hundreds of millions of user-day revenue just to pay back infrastructure investment. Where is the business plan for that?
    • The business plan is probably a million users/day for more than a hundred days.
    • Maybe it is expected to be a perk that would increase loyalty. They used to give out meals and so forth for the same reason.

      Your comment made me sad. I liked it better when every little thing wasn't evaluated against the bottom line. Thinking like you leads to no dinner, offshored customer service, ads on tray tables, barf bags and overhead bins.
    • by donutello (88309) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @03:29PM (#18592547) Homepage
      100,000 x 4500 = $450,000,000 (You had one too many zeros)

      A simpler way to look at it, however: 6% interest on $100,000 is about $20 per day. If you depreciate the equipment over 5 years, that adds another $60 or so per day. If you figure that the average user will take about 2 flights in a day, you earn about $5 per user per flight. Your average airplane makes about 10 flights in a day giving you a potential customer base of 200 x 10 = 2000. You only need to sell to about 16 of those to pay for the capital costs. If you think you're going to get a higher attach rate than that (and I think you are), this is worth doing. Put in intangibles such as product differentiation and customer loyalty and you're far ahead of your costs.
      • by raehl (609729)
        Your average airplane makes about 10 flights in a day

        What planet are these planes flying on?

        That's 2.4 hours per flight. I've spent 2.4 hours on some flights just sitting on the tarmac.

        Short routes you MIGHT get 8 flights per day once you factor in not flying at night. Longer routes you get 4.
  • online is online (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Itninja (937614) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @03:10PM (#18592197) Homepage
    So what will keep someone with an internal wireless (cellular) broadband card in their laptop from using it, and claiming they are on the planes wi-fi network? To the passive observer, there would really be no way to tell the difference. Using cellular in a plane makes it explode or something, right?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by yolto (178256)
      No, its pretty unlikely that using your cell phone will cause any problems.. Banning cell phone use is mostly a safety precaution "just in case" the spectrum your phone is using interferes with the planes avionics. Mythbusters did a test where they jacked up the power of a cell phone over 1000 times and it had no effect on the cockpit instruments. Check out http://kwc.org/mythbusters/2006/04/episode_49_cell phones_on_plane.html [kwc.org]

      Now they may ban you from using your phone since they want you to pay for THEI
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by dlhm (739554)
        I think haveing some jackass sitting next to me talking loudly into his phone for an hour will be a huge security risk. Or rather I might become a security risk to him.
  • Speeds will be equivalent to WiFi service on the ground

    So....how about the bandwidth actually going upstream to the INTERNET? I sure am happy that I'll be connecting to the access point at 11/54Mbps, but....that won't help much when downloading pr0n!
  • Good God, how long are these flights?
    • by bilbravo (763359)
      A lot of hotspots (Barnes & Noble, Starbucks) charge a few dollars per hour/session. A flight across the U.S. could easily exceed $10 at those costs.
  • Jet lag (Score:2, Funny)

    by LiquidCoooled (634315)
    The article says that the wifi will cost the same amount per day as regular wifi.
    Does that mean it will cost less if you are flying East?
  • Um, $100,000 ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tehwebguy (860335) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @03:21PM (#18592401) Homepage
    Why does it cost 100 grand for a plane?
    • I'm sure its

      1. Regular Netlink Router - $45
      2. $999,955
      3. Profit!

      Or maybe they have special hardware approved for avionics. Remember the crash where the in-flight gambling computers caught fire and downed the plane? I'm sure it costs a bundle to get things approved for commercial flight.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Blakey Rat (99501)
      The wi-fi access point in the plane is the easy part. The hard part is the infrastructure required to get a low-latency, high-bandwidth connection to an object moving at several hundred miles an hour at an altitude of 42,000 feet.

      And when I say "easy part", that's relatively speaking. There's still tons and tons of tests to ensure that the wireless access does nothing to interfere with the plane's instruments or communication.
  • Otherwise WiFi is useless on flights over 3 hours, where its actually needed. Weather its a regular outlet, cigarette ligher adapter or some fixed voltage DC source, notebook makers will come up with adapters. Alternatively, show me a notebook that can last 10 hours while actually working - hardrrive/CPU on - AND using the network.
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      Not that it answers your requirement, but my 14" iBook got a solid 6 hours with the backlight on low, DVD drive empty, but wifi on, when it was new. Now it's down to about 4, or 2.5 if I play DVDs.
  • A few months ago we were driving up I-5 in California.

    We were stuck in a traffic jam on the road, a good 20 miles from the nearest town. I pulled out my laptop to scan for wireless signals, and see exactly how 'isolated' this area was.

    Surprisingly, I found several Access Points with names like 'JetBlue1203' and 'JetBlue1609'. These signals would start at low-strength, the signal would grow stronger, peak for about 5 minutes, and then drop off in strength--- almost as if they were coming from an Airplane overhead.

    I suppose these AP's could have come from some other car on the road; but people generally don't run Access Points in their Car.

    Traffic was at a standstill--- if the signal was coming from a nearby house or from a car on our side of the road; I would expect the signal to remain level for a longer period of time.

    If the signal was coming from a car on the opposite side of the road, I would expect the signal quality to rise and fall quickly. In fact, I could detect a number of 'Ad-Hoc' wireless signals from some misconfigured Laptops-- those signals would zoom by pretty quickly (other side of the road), or remain stable (My side of the road).

    I never investigated these further, but I always assumed these 'JetBlue####' Access Points were from JetBlue Airplanes, and I was lucky enough to be within line-of-sight of these signals. The airplanes were a few miles above us, which seems pretty distant for a Wifi signal... But still these Access Points had names like 'JetBlue'. What the heck were they?
  • by gsfprez (27403) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @04:07PM (#18593309)
    Which in the hell is it?

    Are wireless devices going to cause the plane to crash or not?

    If i can cause the plane to crash using my iPod during takeoff, why can i now use WiFi during the flight?

    This all goes to show you why the asshole that refused to put away his iPod or laptop when told to was always right, and the stewdresses and do-gooder sheeple sitting around the cabin ratting them out are the real dumbasses.
  • From TFA:
    In all, it will cost about $100,000 to outfit a plane with less than 100 pounds of equipment, and the work can be done overnight by airline maintenance workers, AirCell says.

    However, according to the article [nwsource.com]in this post [slashdot.org]:

    Paradoxically, he said, the change will reduce weight. "We're putting in about 50 pounds of wiring and taking out about 200 pounds of other gear" including wireless antennae, wireless access points and thickened ceiling panels, said Sinnett.

    So I'm wondering, what's chan

  • So, when you use the internet on an airplane, you're not downloading p0rn . In fact, you're UPloading p0rn to your computer,...

    And, when flying Aeroflot in Soviet Russia: P0RN UPLOADS YOU!

  • Planes are cramped enough as it is. They manage to shoe horn people into coach (steerage) at six total people per row (minus two at the emergency exit) on a medium range jet like an A320, 737, or 757. So, things are fairly claustrophobic and, mix in the woman that yaks endlessly about nothing for hours at a time and you have a recipe for air rage. I for one would be ready to yank the cell phone out of her hand and smash it against my knee. I am sure that cracking sound would be accompanied by the applau
  • Who has room? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @04:54PM (#18594217)
    I find all this talk of internet access in economy hilarious. On most flights with the seat pitch what it is I can barely open a paperback book on the tray table. My laptop? Forget it!! It stays in the overhead bin.
  • by failedlogic (627314) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @05:07PM (#18594455)
    Who catches the RIAA president using BitTorrent on their laptop to exchange "files"!
  • This would be news worthy is not for the fact that Boeing already had a wifi internet service. It came out years ago. It did SO well that they discontinued it!

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