FRAMINGHAM, 9 MARCH 2011 - In-flight Wi-Fi provider Aircell unveiled plans for its second generation of wireless links from aircraft to the Internet on Wednesday, promising higher capacity and the capability to offer its service outside the U.S.
Aircell equips airliners and business jets with in-cabin Wi-Fi systems and operates a network of special cellular base stations around the U.S. to send data from the Internet to the planes and back. Its Gogo service is offered by United Airlines, Delta Air Lines (DAL), Virgin America and other commercial carriers, and the company also sells Gogo Biz for business jets.
On planes where the airlines choose to upgrade the radio equipment, users should get about four times the speed with the new technology, according to Aircell. The main upgrade option, using a faster cellular technology, is scheduled to become available in the first half of 2012, the company said.
Aircell's plan for a new generation of technology is the latest signal that in-flight Wi-Fi is here to stay. Aircell's services began to appear in 2008 after an earlier, satellite-based attempt to put passengers online, Connexion by Boeing (BA), had failed to capture a strong following. But Wi-Fi is now available on many domestic flights in the U.S. Aircell, the biggest provider of these services, charges between US$4.95 and $12.95 depending on the length of the flight and the passenger's device. Facebook, airlines and other companies have sometimes offered special deals that make the service free.
Business travelers are already demanding in-flight Wi-Fi, and more consumers will, especially the growing number of passengers with smartphones, said analyst Avi Greengart of Current Analysis.
"Connectivity is something that consumers are beginning to take for granted in other aspects of their lives," Greengart said.
And, on flights just as in hotels and coffee shops, people are willing to pay for it, Tolaga Research analyst Phil Marshall said.
Aircell will upgrade its cellular infrastructure from Revision A to Revision B of EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized), the 3G data technology for CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access) networks. In Aircell's implementation, Revision B can increase EVDO's downstream speed from about 3.1M bps (bits per second) to 9.8M bps, according to Anand Chari, vice president of engineering. For airlines that want even more capacity, Aircell will also install satellite equipment on planes to link up with Ka-band satellites. The Ka-band system will be available in the continental U.S. in 2013 and around the world in 2015, according to Aircell.
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