November 30, 2011

Gogo Airline Wi-Fi Goes Global With Inmarsat Satellite

Sean Hollister, writing for The Verge:

“The company’s partnering with Inmarsat to test global Ka-band satellite coverage starting in the middle of 2013 — when the first satellite launches — at speeds up to 50Mbps. Currently, Gogo provides the likes of Delta, Southwest, American and Alaska Airlines with an air-to-ground network of 3.1Mbps EV-DO Rev. A cellular, much like Verizon and Sprint 3G”

Assuming Inmarsat doesn’t over-sell their satellite’s capacity, this service will provide greater bandwidth to most airborne passengers than they enjoy at home. It’s a terrific upgrade to already useful inflight WiFi services.

But after using inflight WiFi for the first time this year (I don’t often fly, perhaps once a year at most) I don’t know that I’d make much use of the additional bandwidth. I’m not certain I’ll use inflight WiFi on any given flight. That’s quite a change for me from when I could only dream of connectivity everywhere.

There’s something lost by bringing our always-connected lifestyle to one of the last bastions of isolation, an airborne aircraft. Before inflight WiFi appeared the world went away when the aircraft door was closed. Shut off the cell phone, the music player, and lately, put away the reading device. Only when the aircraft has shed the Earth, and jet- or prop-roar fills the cabin adding sonic isolation to the physical, do most of those items join books and magazines as entertainment. But we’re still isolated from the cares and concerns of the world below without a network connection. It’s enforced down-time.

This isn’t to say inflight WiFi isn’t beneficial for continued workflow while otherwise sidelined, or as an additional source of entertainment. 50Mbps might even allow for streamed music and movie content. And fliers can always opt not to connect. It requires a purposeful act to pay for the service, after all.

It is, though, one less time and place that encourages a little boredom, rest for the mind, and the daydreaming that comes with it.