Would you use more WiFi in the air if it were faster?

by Charlie Leocha on September 18, 2013

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That’s the several million dollar question these days. Airlines are convinced that passengers want WiFi even though the usage rates are far lower than predicted. The Internet providers served up analysis that claimed 70 percent of passengers would log into the Web, but history is showing far less — more in the 20 percent range.

Some people enjoy the refuge from the Web and cell phones that air travel provides. But soon, the excuse of non-connectivity will be a thing of the past.

Faster Internet isn’t only in the interests of passengers; many airlines are looking towards speedy Web connections to allow them to eliminate costly and heavy entertainment equipment. In a world of good Web connections, the need for back-of-the-seat monitors and entertainment centers could be eliminated. Everyone could fly in a world of bring-your-own-device (BYOD).

Then, passengers could decide what movies they want to see, what games they want to play and what work they want to accomplish on their own smartphones, tablets or laptops. The airlines could provide a free Web connection only for entertainment that would be a big money saver over the current instruments. And, passengers would have the opportunity to sign in to their own Web experience for a charge.

Until now, most planes didn’t have WiFi connections. Even today, the connections are relatively clunky and slow, especially when more than a handful of passengers are signed onto the Web at the same time on the same plane. New high-speed Web delivery is being developed and should be starting installation during the next year.

On Wednesday, Gogo Inc., the largest provider of inflight Internet in the U.S., plans to unveil a system that uses a combination of satellites and cellular towers, connecting airplanes to the Web at speeds six times as fast as its current best option.

Virgin America Inc. will launch Gogo’s new inflight Wi-Fi service in the second half of 2014 and says it expects to eventually upgrade its 53 aircraft with the product.

That comes after JetBlue Airways Corp. received government approval last week to install a new high-capacity satellite link on many of its aircraft, an inflight Wi-Fi solution that can support streaming video to fliers’ devices from Netflix Inc. and Hulu, among others.

JetBlue, which has lacked inflight Internet, plans to launch the service on some aircraft this year and equip its entire fleet of 180 aircraft by the end of 2015.

Internet connections are found on about 60 percent of domestic flights today. Delta and Southwest are leading the pack with numbers of equipped aircraft. American has just over 450 planes equipped. USAir offers Web connections on around 275 planes. And, United Airlines is the real laggard with less than 100 aircraft decked out with Web connections.

As mentioned above, this installation can be a win-win for airlines and passengers. Airlines can stream movies and lighten their load of electronics and passengers can stay connected and get more work accomplished while winging across the country and eventually while traveling overseas.

What are your thoughts? Will you take more advantage of  the Web if good, fast service was available on flights? Do you think airlines will use these faster Web connections to serve up entertainment to individual devices? Or, would you rather leave airline travel time a window within which we can all decompress? Let us know in the comments.

Photo: American Airlines

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  • bob

    When airlines are charging exhorbitant fees for in flight WIFI i won’t use it. When it becomes part of the in flight entertainment systems, I will likely use it, unless the speed is too slow.

  • roadrunner

    Agree completely — currently too expensive and too slow.
    Given all the extra fees airlines are now charging, this should be free.

  • Johnp

    As a frequent flyer I would be delighted to have FAST reasonably priced internet service.

  • stevtvl

    Another fee, no matter how you cut it and if I don’t have a smartphone, laptop or smart phone with me am I then without entertainment. You betcha. BTW I do nave all of the above and prefer to read a book

  • dcta

    I won’t pay for unreliable and slow service – this is precisely why the river cruises don’t charge for WiFi. They will all tell you that it is too unreliable/slow to charge a fee for – so they give it away.

    The minute it becomes fast and reliable, I’m probably in!

  • MeanMeosh

    Back when most of my air travel was for business, absolutely, I’d have been ready to pony up for faster, more reliable WiFi. Every minute of work I could get done in the air was one less minute that I’d have to work after landing, thus meaning more sleep for me before my meetings the next day. Now that just about 100% of my air travel is personal, though, I probably wouldn’t be interested, at least on domestic flights. The longest flight not to AK or HI out of DFW is just shy of 4 hours, so plunking down $10-15 just to keep up with how my fantasy football team is doing doesn’t seem worth it. On the other hand, having working WiFi available on a long international flight? That’s another story. Sign me up right now!

  • The Book Doctor

    I’ll consider wifi if it’s free. If it comes as another “unbundled service,” I’ll continue bringing books to read on the plane.

  • StephenD

    It’s like the airlines themselves … to much money … old technology … poor service. Reduce the costs, improve the technology and provide better service … then I am all for it.

  • Carchar

    No.

  • http://astro.dur.ac.uk/~gelbord/ Jonathan_G

    In principle, I love the idea of in flight internet access. It doesn’t even have to be especially fast. A slow connection will still let me check mail, read blogs and new stories, even if it’s not enough to support streaming media.

    What stops me from using it is the exorbitant price. I simply can’t justify spending ~20% of the cost of a full month of high-speed access at home for just a couple of hours of internet trickle in flight. Especially if I’m sitting in the regular coach section where there isn’t even enough room to open my laptop.

    Granted, I expect access to be more expensive on a plane than on the ground, but think about the numbers for a moment: $50 a month for cable modem access at home translates to 7¢/hour. If the much slower service on a plane cost something like $1/hour I likely would use it regularly, but not at ten times that amount. At those prices, it’s about as useful to me as those seat-back telephones that the airlines no longer offer…

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