Airplanes To Become WiFi Hotspots

Airlines will start turning their airplanes into WiFi hotspots beginning early next year, WSJ reports.

Here’s what you need to know:

Provider: AirCell
Cost: < $10
Speed: “Similar to WiFi on the ground” (whatever that means)
VoIP: Blocked

It won’t be long before you too can join the virtual Mile-High Club. — BEN POPKEN

WiFi in the Sky: Airlines Prepare Cabin Hotspots [WSJ]


Edit Your Comment

  1. jburland says:

    Lufthansa and Boeing introduced this a couple of years back and phased it out (well, Boeing did…) at the end of last year.
    Reason? Lack of customer uptake

  2. cabinaero says:

    I think the key is saturation of portable devices with WiFi support. The Boeing and LH service was nice but launched ahead of its market support. Connexion launched in 2003; from a consumer standpoint, wifi didn’t really become pervasive until late 2005.

  3. Charles Duffy says:

    And what exactly does “no VOIP” mean?

    I work via a VPN going back to my office, and our phone server there allows folks coming through the VPN to hook into the company phone system through it. It’s pretty resiliant to attempts to determine what’s going through it; sure, you can do traffic analysis (lots of small packets going both ways? looks like VoIP!) or insert arbitrary random latency to mess up media streams while leaving other traffic pretty much unharmed — but just blocking things that are obviously SIP or Skype isn’t going to do much good against anyone reasonably savvy.

    The other possibility is that there are actual technical (as opposed to pricing-related) reasons why this isn’t suitable for VoIP; if the technology is something inherently high-latency (ie. satellite), that’ll do it. I’d be curious to know which situation is in fact the case.

    Or they can be bastards and block anything that isn’t TCP over ports 80 or 443. That’ll piss off telecommuters, though — VPNs have far more uses than just skirting around local network filters. [I use OpenVPN, and it can be adjusted to run in TCP mode sharing port 443 with a web server — but TCP mode is unsuitable for datagram traffic like what’s used for VoIP, and most other VPN solutions can’t do this anyhow].

  4. Maulleigh says:

    the good news? Free Wi Fi.

    The bad news? NOWHERE TO PLUG THE LAPTOP IN!!! Batteries don’t last forever!

  5. FLConsumer says:

    The lack of VoIP support could possibly an inherent limitation in the technology used. I’ve tried a few times to run VoIP over CDMA’s EVDO and haven’t had anything close to success yet. I’ve been able to pass audio, but the choppiness and lack of quality made it unusable.

  6. esquilax says:

    WiFi is trendy, but is it really needed here? Nobody’s going to be walking around with their laptop, and having 200 people try to use the same one or two access points at once isn’t going to work very well. What’s wrong with plain old Ethernet?

  7. tvh2k says:

    @Charles Duffy:

    I had the same thought as you. Run VoIP through a VPN or tunnel it over SSH. If VPNs are blocked, tunnel SSH over HTTP. Perhaps something like Corkscrew or HTTPTunnel?

    I would just worry about latency. There’s about a 99% chance the connection is via satellite, which are notorious for poor latency. High latency + VoIP (especially with all the overhead of these tunnels) = I’d rather talk on AIM.

  8. joeblevins says:

    Despite what some commenters may say, this isn’t about free wi-fi. $10 bucks is what it will cost for your. Well, if you aren’t upgraded. Since I only travel Delta domestically, I don’t ever get to fly on a plane with power at the seat. I have been some form of Medallion for 10+ years and just haven’t seen it. They will have to upgrade all those planes to add power before people will be paying. I would pay $10 bucks for wifi on cross country flights. I wouldn’t do it for the little 1 hr jumps though.

  9. Youthier says:

    I personally wouldn’t pay for the service because I can usually go without internet for a few hours. But I imagine corporate travelers would use it and be able to expense it so I can see this being fairly succesful.

  10. notallcompaniesarebad says:

    @Charles Duffy: “insert arbitrary random latency to mess up media streams while leaving other traffic pretty much unharmed “
    I don’t think they will need to insert any artificial latency for a jet in the air. My bet is that it will come with plenty of built in latency. HOWEVER, I am with you in saying that someone will figure out a way around the “ban” if indeed the only reason VOIP won’t work is because of decree and not technical limitations.

  11. Buran says:

    @Maulleigh: Some aircraft do have plugs; check out for more details, as I don’t know which airlines/aircraft are fitted with them. But they are there.

    Alternately, carry a spare battery with you.

  12. Buran says:

    @jburland: It was on a few international routes, not on domestic flights. If domestic flights offered this service, I’d pay $10 a flight for it. Yes, it may seem silly to pay for the ability to browse the web or chat via IM or log into one of the private chat MUD-like systems or IRC systems I use, but it’d sure pass the time much more quickly to be able to talk with friends if I finish off the book I’ve brought with me.

  13. Buran says:

    @esquilax: Cable clutter. You don’t want stray cables all over the place when trying to evacuate during an emergency.

  14. Overturf says:

    This is just one more step to cell phones in-flight. Some of us don’t like to have a connection to the world while we’re traveling; that shit is bad enough when we are on the ground.

    And when cell phones become an in-flight must have…well, that is the day when I start hitching my way to business meetings via freight train, just like the hobos do.

  15. Charles Duffy says:

    @tvh2k: The TCP-based tunneling mechanisms you suggest aren’t suitable for datagram traffic. See Why TCP Over TCP Is A Bad Idea, and consider that UDP-based protocols are typically UDP for a reason: They want to discard out-of-date traffic instead of retransmitting it (and, in doing so, making other traffic which would otherwise be up-to-date out-of-date, such that it gets also discarded by the application… and otherwise snowballing the whole thing out of control).

  16. bndocksnt says:

    @: @:

  17. bndocksnt says:

    @: Okay, let me nest in my own comment to say what I meant to say before I somehow posted to random “@”s. I suspect that any airplane fitted with access points will end up stacking several. I highly doubt they’ll run with one or two only. At the University that I attend, each ed-tech room has several routers stacked on top of each-other in a spiral pattern. This allows the signal to hit all corners and also allows a large number of wifi devices to connect without complications. The hardware is a onetime cost for them, and not a significant one at that.

  18. zoso says:

    I’m glad that they’re not allowing VoIP. Seriously, bawling kids are bad enough, but I really don’t want to hear about some guy’s plans to get loaded in Amsterdam or something. Keep in mind that people on headsets are notoriously loud. If that’s what the airlines are trying to prevent, then good on them. Maybe I’m just a grump.

  19. Wormfather says:

    MMORPG’s just hit the mile high club…there’s a joke there, somewhere.