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Wendy is an IFE Agent responsible for aggregating airline news specifically related to Inflight entertainment. She compiles stories relevant to business travelers, airline industry folks, marketers and tech geeks. IFE News doesn't create original content, but rather posts compelling editorial from global media outlets.

The future of in-flight Wi-Fi

The future of in-flight Wi-Fi

REGULAR Gulliver readers know that nobody pays for in-flight Wi-Fi. It’s slow and unreliable, and despite the widely hated electronic-device rules some passengers still use broadband-enabled electronic devices. Often, when I turn on my laptop’s Wi-Fi to see whether the flight I’m on offers free Wi-Fi, I’ll notice one or two other wireless networks active at 35,000 feet, broadcast from other passengers who are surreptitiously using their broadband modems.

As such modems grow in popularity this kind of rule-breaking could become more common (in the absence of a security crackdown). That could make the existing Wi-Fi situation even worse. So few passengers (most estimates are below 10%) are willing to pay for in-flight Wi-Fi that it’s currently hard to justify the installation costs except as a loss leader—a money-losing amenity to attract those few passengers who absolutely must use it, or whose employers foot the bill (many employers do not).

On May 9th, America’s Federal Communications Commission announced that it wants to expand the amount of electromagnetic spectrum bandwidth available for in-flight ground-to-air Wi-Fi services (the new international in-flight Wi-Fi services use satellites, not a ground-to-air network, because they have to operate over water). That may sound like good news for faster and more reliable in-flight Wi-Fi—and in a way, it is. But as Joe Sharkey, the New York Times‘s veteran business-travel columnist, explains, the decision isn’t about making it easier for you to stay in touch with people on the ground—it’s all about selling you things while you’re up in the air:

The great advances in airplane internet connections are being driven far more by the opportunities that high-speed broadband service presents for airlines themselves to essentially sell more things to the customers, whether the product is in-flight entertainment, food and drink, customised services to elite-status passengers or products at the destination, including hotel packages, sports and concert tickets, restaurant and theatre reservations. On an airplane, you have a captive market, and with sophisticated technology, you can sell to passengers in very personal ways.

If Mr Sharkey is right, in-flight Wi-Fi may be able to finally escape the vicious cycle in which quality improvements rely on more passengers deciding to pay for bad service (and the problem of wider use on any given flight slowing down service on that flight). Instead, Wi-Fi will be the new SkyMall—provided free to passengers so they can buy things they don’t really need.

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