There's New Life in In-Flight Internet
The notion that your friendly airline company would someday act as you local Internet provider seemed to go out the window with the whole notion of the "friendly skies" itself. But now, in-flight Internet is making a comeback, albeit a limited one.
According to this report, Virgin America airlines is joining American Airlines in introducing in-flight web service on selected flights.Virgin is testing ther service on just one aircraft, but it could be expanded to24 other planes by the middle of next year. American has been touting its Internet service for several months on select long-duration domestic flights.
The question is whether this service is going to be any more commecially viable than it was the last time around, when Boeing's unplugged its highly touted Connexion broadband service because airline carriers like Lufthansa and Singapore Air couldn't make any money with it and the required satellite received added too much weight to the airplanes. This time, the outcome could be different because the technology is more simple and less expensive. For one thing, the new service relies on celltowers, not satellites, for transmission and thus costs the passenger less than half -- about $10 or $12 -- of what Connexion did. Also, broadband access has become even more widespead and convenient that it was just a few years ago, and it is accessible on many more pocket mobile devices such as Apple's iTouch. And the speed seems comparable to DSL. Broadband has now become a mass commodity and is destined to grow more so.
Other carriers such as Air Canada and Delta expect to offer similar in-flight broadband service next year. One big drawback is that the new service's dependency on celltowers means it can't be offered over water (which eliminates long-distance international flights where it would really be useful.) That's why other carriers such as Alaska are testing in-flight broadband services that rely on the original satellite concept.
No matter which technology wins, it seems in-flight Internet is poised for a comeback.