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FCC Smooths the Path For Airlines' In-Flight Internet 93

Posted by timothy
from the paving-the-path-wouldn't-make-sense dept.
The Washington Post reports on a development that may push Internet access on commercial aircraft from a pleasant luxury (but missing on most U.S. domestic flights) to commonplace. Writes the Post: "The Federal Communications Commission on Friday approved an application process for airlines to obtain broadband Internet licenses aboard their planes. Previously, airlines were granted permission on an ad hoc basis. Airlines need the FCC’s permission to tap into satellite airwaves while in flight that enable passengers to access the Internet. They also need permission from the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees the safety of inflight Internet systems." I hope that on-board Internet not only becomes the default, but that free advertising-backed access does, too; especially for short flights, the "24-hour pass" paid access I've seen on United and Delta is tempting, but too pricey.
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FCC Smooths the Path For Airlines' In-Flight Internet

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  • Think it is likely to remain too pricey for now. Too many price-insensitive business travelers willing to pay *any* price with the corporate credit card. Maybe the airlines can make it up on volume at a lower price point or figure out how to tier it properly, but seems like a good deal they have going now.
    • Re:Pricing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Saturday December 29, 2012 @11:27AM (#42419587)

      Too many price-insensitive business travelers willing to pay *any* price with the corporate credit card

      I'm a business traveller - Flew 65K miles on 66 segments in 2012. When I've been on flights with IF internet I've never bothered with it. I edit presentations, work on spreadsheets, reply to email ("save draft"), or watch a movie. It's my few hours when I'm *not* connected...

      • by cthulhu11 (842924)
        You get to fly first class? Lucky you. I've given up trying to use a laptop in coach - no room for a tolerable arm/hand angle for typing or reasonable head angle, and too much risk for the jackass in front of me reclining with no notice and snapping my display.
  • by Miamicanes (730264) on Saturday December 29, 2012 @01:14AM (#42417523)

    Please, for the love of God, Xenu, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, no, not in-flight internet that screws with the stream and inserts its own ads into it, or intercepts random http requests and redirects them to interstitial ads. Taco Bell in South Florida tried that a few months ago, and it broke SO FUCKING MANY Android apps it isn't funny (because the access point's stupid software couldn't tell the difference between a http request for a web page, and a http request made to some web service whose client app is just going to crash and burn if it gets a 302 redirect in a context where the real app would never, ever return one).

    • by Miamicanes (730264) on Saturday December 29, 2012 @01:21AM (#42417575)

      ^^^ Oh, I forgot... it also broke non-http-based apps (including ipsec VPNs and SSH), because it would periodically decide to make you watch an ad, and start blocking all traffic from your IP address until you watched one. Except in the meantime, your app is freaking out because it's supposedly connected, but has no apparent connectivity. Oh... and the best part... whatever they were using to serve the ads had a bug that caused the Flash-based ad host to crash when you tried watching ads beyond the first, so once the initial session ran out of time and it decided to make you watch another ad, there was nothing you could do to reconnect and make it work again short of spoofing a different MAC address.

      Maybe this is something IETF needs to address, so "free-as-in-no-cash-trading-hands" wifi can at least communicate to OTHER applications that they need to make you watch an ad to avoid having the connection go away. In the meantime, though, I officially regard "free-if-you-watch-the-ads" wifi as a plague that does nothing except cause misery and render the service completely useless.

    • by adolf (21054)

      Dude. It's Taco Bell.

      Eat your "food" and get the hell out of there.

      • If wifi internet service is going to cost the airline and/or passengers money, I would much prefer those funds were used to budget for increased legroom in those so-called "seats". I am not tall by current Western standards (5' 7") or even fat, but flying is sufficiently unpleasant for me to avoid it whenever possible.
    • by swillden (191260)

      For that matter, unless they can find ways to dramatically increase the bandwidth, I don't want in-flight Internet to become cheap either. Please keep it expensive enough that most people will choose not to use it, so it'll be fast enough for those of us who are trying to get work done. Or maybe introduce tiered pricing so that those who need the higher speeds can get it.

  • by BitZtream (692029) on Saturday December 29, 2012 @01:28AM (#42417601)

    GoGo uses cellular service, not sat links. The whole thing about using your cell phone on an aircraft is utter bullshit and has been since day one.

    Heres an map old map of some of their towers.

    http://www.gadling.com/2009/12/07/aircell-headquarters-chicago-internet/ [gadling.com]

    Analog cell phones worked just fine on aircraft. Digital doesn't have the power to do it at 35k feet, of course, you also have a battery that'll last a couple days instead of just one with digital but thats another argument and that problem can be addresses as well.

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Saturday December 29, 2012 @01:46AM (#42417675)

      I seem to recall that mobile-phone providers were worried about in-flight use of phones because it could cause a mess with the networks if thousands of customers were hopping cell towers at 500+ mph, instead of at usual walking/subway/biking/driving speeds. One per plane would presumably not cause the same problem.

      • by RDW (41497)

        Maybe it's the airlines who are worried about the potential for violence inherent in being stuck next to someone jabbering away on their phone for an 8 hour flight? I hope they block Skype...

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          You can already do that on a lot of flights, you just have to pay a silly amount per second for the call. I'm amazed the airlines haven't seen the obvious money-making opportunity here - allow bidding between passengers to use or prevent the use of the phone.

    • by shitzu (931108) on Saturday December 29, 2012 @03:27AM (#42418117)

      Batteries lasting a couple of days vs one has nothing to do with digital vs analog. I have had a digital (GSM) phone with a battery that lasts for two weeks easily. Batteries these days don't last more than a day because of those gigaherzes of cpu to power, inches of screen to light and constant communications for smartness.
      And by the way - GSM goes easily to 35k feet (11km) - if there are no obstrucions - you know - like in the AIR. We use a ferry to travel from Tallinn (Estonia) to Helsinki (Finland) and only right in the middle of this ~80 KM journey is there no cell reception from either shore. I would extrapolate that at least 30 km (3 times the height of commercial air traffic) is easily doable.
      Cell phone reception only sucks if you have buildings or plants in the way. Or a mountain.

      • Batteries lasting a couple of days vs one has nothing to do with digital vs analog. I have had a digital (GSM) phone with a battery that lasts for two weeks easily. Batteries these days don't last more than a day because of those gigaherzes of cpu to power, inches of screen to light and constant communications for smartness.
        And by the way - GSM goes easily to 35k feet (11km) - if there are no obstrucions - you know - like in the AIR. We use a ferry to travel from Tallinn (Estonia) to Helsinki (Finland) and only right in the middle of this ~80 KM journey is there no cell reception from either shore. I would extrapolate that at least 30 km (3 times the height of commercial air traffic) is easily doable.
        Cell phone reception only sucks if you have buildings or plants in the way. Or a mountain.

        What BitZtream meant (I think) is that a clunky old analog handset (Motorola Microtec, Startec, Nokia 918) would only get like 1 day standby time, while a digital (GSM, TDMA, CDMA) dumb phone can get like a week. That is an analog vs digital issue.

        As far as smart phones, my Android phone will get like 3 days standby if data and wifi are turned off and it's used purely as a dumb phone, and a day if data or wifi is running.

        A lot of digital mobile technology has a maximum range of about 35km. This is due to la

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Batteries lasting a couple of days vs one has nothing to do with digital vs analog. I have had a digital (GSM) phone with a battery that lasts for two weeks easily. Batteries these days don't last more than a day because of those gigaherzes of cpu to power, inches of screen to light and constant communications for smartness.

        Well, it sort of did. Analog cell phones had much higher transmit power, so they typically ran down batteries much faster. To provide the same talk time, they used bigger batteries. S

      • by ibennetch (521581)

        And by the way - GSM goes easily to 35k feet (11km) - if there are no obstrucions - you know - like in the AIR. We use a ferry to travel from Tallinn (Estonia) to Helsinki (Finland) and only right in the middle of this ~80 KM journey is there no cell reception from either shore. I would extrapolate that at least 30 km (3 times the height of commercial air traffic) is easily doable.
        Cell phone reception only sucks if you have buildings or plants in the way. Or a mountain.

        Just because you have good reception straight out from the tower at 30km doesn't mean you'll have good service 11km in the air. The cell phone towers are tuned to have good horizontal coverage, not vertically. It's not a perfect sphere of coverage; these are directional arrays that are designed to provide coverage where most of their customers are...on the ground. The first link [blogspot.com] that came up in my Google search seems to have some more information about coverage patterns.

  • I don't really need internet access on a flight, but when I'm on a 3 hour flight and I am running so many applications on my laptop that my battery is only good for 2 hours, I would really love to have an outlet to plug in and keep my battery charged. Unfortunately most of the planes I've been on in the past 7-10 years have been of the regional jet variety which generally don't have AC outlets for anyone.

    As much as I generally am rather fond of the EmbraerJets, I am rather annoyed that they never give me anywhere to plug in my laptop, it would well offset my frustration over the inability to stand up in the aisle.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BitZtream (692029)

      I'm mac, and I use this: http://store.apple.com/us/product/MB441Z/A/apple-magsafe-airline-adapter [apple.com]

      Perhaps you should see what you need for your laptop. I've not had a power issues in a couple of years thanks to having the right adapter.

      Expecting to plug in to AC is rather retarded on an aircraft as it would require large inverters to power a full aircraft, and then all the inverters are going to do is power your converter thats going to bounce it back down to essentially the same voltage as it started out a

      • While that is useful if the plane has any sort of seat power, most of the RJs (regional jets) don't have anything. And given the poor economic performance of most airlines and the typically limited competition (at least at the regional level) upgrading the seats isn't going to happen quickly, you're more likely to solve your computing problem by getting a laptop with a better battery.

        And, of course, there is always the iPad and similar ilk.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        Are you in the US? Few if any domestic flights have power (DC or AC), in cattle class anyways. (Maybe I just fly the wrong airlines? Nope. [usatoday.com])
      • Perhaps you should see what you need for your laptop. I've not had a power issues in a couple of years thanks to having the right adapter.

        Regional Jets don't have that kind of plug, either. Hell some of them don't even have room for full-size carry-on bags, you have to gate check just about anything larger than a briefcase. Any kind of electricity would be a convenience that the airlines don't care to provide.

      • by Idbar (1034346)
        Geez, 50 for a cable (or a DC/DC converter if it's even that)? I carry a $10 power inverter, that comes with 1AC output and 1USB port. I've traveled recently on many airplanes with AC outlets and some with this cigarette lighter connector. Flights on crappy jets are probably less than 1 hour long anyways.
        • by cynyr (703126)

          The last planes I was on for the 3.5 to 4 hour flight between MSP and SAN, were a 757 and a MD90. Neither have any sort of power anywhere on the plane. A 4 hour flight on a workstation laptop running autocad/inventor is just never going to work. Nor is it going to work for a movie.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        Expecting to plug in to AC is rather retarded on an aircraft as it would require large inverters to power a full aircraft, and then all the inverters are going to do is power your converter thats going to bounce it back down to essentially the same voltage as it started out as.

        Actually, the plane sockets provide very little power - usually under 55W or so. For a small laptop, not a big deal, but a larger ones will often require entering special modes that disable battery charging (I believe the Apple one te

      • by matunos (1587263)

        Expecting to plug in to AC is rather retarded on an aircraft[...]

        "Retarded" though it may be, Virgin Atlantic has them, as do many (most?) international flights.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Actually power on aircraft is generated as AC, either from the engines or a dedicated fuel-burning unit. Often it is at a different frequency to normal mains, but is converted to say 230V/50Hz or 110V/60Hz to run small appliances like microwaves and coffee makers, as well as provide power for 1st class passengers and the in-flight entertainment system.

  • Seriously, it's obviously been decided that it's as safe to use wifi inflight as it is around coffee machines and baristas, so why make an application process? Or does Starbucks has to apply now? Oh, wait, I missed that part about the FCC. Sorry I raised the question.
    • by jonwil (467024)

      The issue is not that it is or isn't safe to use WiFi inflight, the reason for FCC approval is for 2 things:
      1.Device approval for all the devices that pick up WiFi signals and translate them into either a satellite up-link or a down-link to a ground station. (this may be done once for a given device or it may have to be done differently for each individual aircraft model based on the exact setup of different components it uses)
      and 2.Approval to transmit on the frequencies used for these links to the outside

  • The FAA, they always seem to be on that leading edge of change.

  • If there is ever a Pirate Party revolution, it will be one of the first things outlawed, and one of the very few with the death penalty.
  • This can't be an issue for most, and going by all the press over the last year this isn't the problem that most people are concerned with.
  • Think of it now. We all know how much WiFi sucks when it's overused. That's what advertising-supported on-board Internet will be like. It will be slow (the bandwidth to the ground is single-digit megabits per second, so divide that by 50 to 300 passengers - and some passengers will have multiple devices).

    On the other hand, charge a a few bucks for it and only the people who really want it will pay for it. Yes, some will be business users, but I already think the pay-per-day prices aren't all that bad.

  • As the CIA has already nicely cleared the issue for travelers, if something is done at an aircraft, is is not really a concern of any jurisdiction. Please enjoy the total freedom of an airborne wifi network, semi-responsively.

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