Airline In-Flight Communication – Past, Present and Future
In the year 2000, internet connection inside a flight was a dream. Hold on. Lets be fair in saying that terrestrial internet as such was a big thing then. After the dot com revolution in 2000, one of the focus of airline industry was to bring internet connectivity in flight while on air. Boeing sensed this opportunity and launched a service by name “Connexion” in 2004, but it apparently wasn’t successful due to various reasons. Key reasons for aborting the service was installation and ongoing expenses, because installations took weeks and that ultimately translates to revenue loss for the airline.
Since then there were many companies trying to break the code. There was a clear case of ‘Blue Ocean‘ market. Whoever cracked the code first would have a clear advantage in terms of market penetration. And, the company who managed to do this was ‘Gogo Air‘, a US based company. They launched their in-flight connectivity service in 2008 with a concept called ATG – Aircraft To Ground, which uses existing mobile phone base stations for establishing connectivity. Naturally, the Blue Ocean turned out as Red Ocean with the advent of competitors like – Row 44, SITA’s On Air, Global Xpress. In today’s market, the former two players along with Gogo dominate the in-flight connectivity system.
But, still there is room for improvement.
What’s going on now:
- The internet connection on air isn’t as fast as what one would get on ground. On an average, the current speed is 2 Mbps in flight. Gogo recently upgraded their service to serve upto 9+ Mbps on 25 planes belonging to Virgin America, US Airways and Delta.
- Though Gogo has 85% market share in North America, its not without limitation. Gogo’s coverage is limited to aircraft flying over land.
- A recent survey by Skyscanner reported that 86% of travellers are against the use of mobile phones on planes.
- According to In-stat, a US research and consulting firm, currently only about 8% of air travellers in the United States pay for onboard wi-fi.
- In-flight internet connectivity charge isn’t any cheaper now, with prices starting from USD 5 for an hour. And the telephone communication (satellite phones) isn’t any cheaper – Lufthansa charges £6 per minute, Qantas charges £7 per minute and KLM charges £8 per minute.
- Internet connectivity and communication might become cheaper and affordable. Compare the current price of a per minute mobile call with what it was 10 years ago, in-flight internet and communication might go through the same price roller coaster.
- Browsing will be a breeze. Browsing while on air is going to be like browsing at your home with blazing fast internet speed. In-flight internet will become ‘feel-like-home’, from connectivity speed perspective.
- Joining a conference call, working remote via VPN connection – these are going to be possible, technically this is happening even now. But, the experience is going to be enhanced and seamless.
- Majority of the airlines will start providing wifi. Whether the service will be available for free? That can be answered only with time considering the way ancillary services business is shaping up.
- Stay connected all-time, with all of YOUR devices. Currently, only a handful of airlines allow you to use your mobile, laptop for the entire time you are inside a flight. We believe, in future, travelers do not have to switch off their mobiles, laptops and other devices during take-off / landing. Composing a mail while on the way to airport? You will be able to send it even during flight take off.
Author: Karthick Prabu