In-flight Wi-Fi used to be a pleasant surprise for travellers taking to the skies. Today, in-flight Wi-Fi is on thousands of U.S. aircrafts and soon, Wi-Fi may become another standard amenity. Why? The in-flight Wi-Fi business is booming with revenues projected to surpass $1.5 billion in 2015 (In-Stat). However, many current in-flight Wi-Fi users complain about slow in-flight internet speeds, unreliable connectivity, and limited user capabilities (extremely poor video streaming).
With billions of revenue dollars at stake, in-flight Wi-Fi providers have taken notice of the current service flaws. Two of the biggest U.S. in-flight Wi-Fi providers, Gogo and Row 44, are both racing to create the best and fastest in-flight Wi-Fi. Here is a detailed look at each provider’s technologies and plans for the future.
Total Commercial U.S. Aircrafts: 1,500+
Airline Partnerships: AirTran, Air Canada, Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, United, US Airways, Virgin America
Pricing: Varies by flight length and device type – online prices advertise $14.99 for 24 hours
Pros: Largest in-flight Wi-Fi provider in U.S.; may use on multiple devices but not simultaneously
Cons: Limited connectivity on land and no connectivity over bodies of water or remote regions
Gogo uses Air-To-Ground (ATG) technology, which is composed of a cell tower network across the U.S. and parts of Alaska. These cell towers have been built to point signals at the sky rather than the ground. A flying aircraft is able to pick up the cell tower signal through a receiver and distributes the signal throughout the cabin.
Gogo’s ATG technology provides internet speeds of 3.1 Mbps. However, Gogo has recently announced an upgrade to their new ATG-4 solution which allows internet speeds of 9.8 Mbps. Unfortunately, they won’t start rolling ATG-4 out until early 2013.
Along with their plans to upgrade to ATG-4, Gogo has been busy obtaining financial funding. On June 25, Gogo announced a $135 million credit facility, which will be used to finance international expansion.
Company: Row 44
Total Commercial U.S. Aircrafts: 150
Airline Partnerships: Southwest
Pricing: $5 per device for 24 hours
Pros: Their Ku-band satellite technology provides uninterrupted broadband service in all parts of the world (including oceans); currently testing a TV service that would stream live TV on a dedicated portion of bandwidth and thus free up web browsing bandwidth
Cons: Only available on select B737-700 Southwest aircrafts
Row 44 uses a Ku-band antenna system, which is mounted on top of the aircraft and encased in fibreglass. This antenna communicates with geostationary satellites (through an exclusive partnership with Hughes), and allows for fast (28 Mbps) in-flight Wi-Fi as well as uninterrupted service over water and land.
Row 44 already has international partnerships in Europe and Africa. Furthermore, they have recently announced a $45 million round of funding, which will be used to expand infrastructure and invest in additional programs for customers.
In 2011, only 7% (In-Stat) of travellers who were offered in-flight Wi-Fi actually purchased the service. However, this is a much higher take rate than 2010 when only 4% of travellers purchased in-flight Wi-Fi. In a tech savvy world with travellers who value the option to purchase in-flight Wi-Fi (even if only 7% purchase it), it’s good to know in-flight Wi-Fi providers are taking steps to improve and expand their services. Only time will tell whether Wi-Fi at 35,000 feet will ever be as fast and reliable as it is on land.
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