Wifi On Airliners

Posted by on May 27th, 2009 and filed under Aviation, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry


There has been a lot of talk over the week about WiFi on commercial aircraft. I have posted some comments places in hopes of helping people understand the hurdles of making it all happen, and why the price point is as high as it is. I will just kind of wrap it all up here since it seems to be a hot topic.

Internet on aircraft has actually been around a lot longer than people think. It was mostly cost prohibitive because of the extreme data charges that used to be assessed for using satellites to transfer data, and the slow speed and latency of the transfer. Internet then started to become available using land based transfers on the CDMA network that we use now.

The problem then moved to cost of the unit (sometimes well over a million a piece), and weight of the unit. I am not sure what on earth they had in the old systems, but it would weigh several hundred pounds. That not only decreases amount of product (be it people, bags, cargo), but also increases the fuel burn. From my understanding the new devices by Gogo now are under 100lbs. Even with device and bandwidth costs decreasing, the accrued cost is still very high.

It is not as simple as buying a unit and plugging it in. It has to be certified for the airplane, have to have maintenance personal install it. Probably has a power button that all your aircraft, and pilot training books have to have an update to know about. FAA has to sign off on every single step. It is a process that can take a simple $100k device, and make it suddenly cost $500k or more.

So now you have some marketing group trying to figure out what to charge, based on costs, and how many people are actually going to use it? Would you? and at what cost? I have to admit, the first plane I get on that has it available I am going to use it. It could cost $30, and be an hour long flight, but I am going to pay it just to try it out. But what about after the newness wears off? Then it really becomes about the price point to the customer.

Many people have suggested in-boarding your costs into the general ticket prices. Here is a harsh reality about our society, we are cheap. REAL cheap. The airlines have all the rates figured out and in tune with each other. So when the consumer goes to Orbitz and search for a rate, then they will be the cheapest. Would you pay $5 to ride on an airline with wifi if it was included? Well sure, but you have found this article, your not the majority of the travelers. Sadly that $5 difference to the bargain shopper looking for tickets just cost a sale.

Like all new technologies, the cost will decrease rapidly over the years. I remember paying $400 for a 120meg hard drive, and $15 for a single blank CD. The only thing working against us right now is patience, and that two hour flight that makes us feel isolated. One interesting fact to point out about the Aircell service (people behind Gogo), it supports GSM enabled devices. So if they decide to let people use their cell phones in flight for voice calls, it looks like the device is already there to handle it

(Via Gizmodo, FlightGlobal, Gogo, Aircell, and HotHardware.)

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