For about five years, inflight WiFi has largely remained unchanged. Gogo, one of the leading providers of inflight WiFi, has spent years providing the basic internet service that customers have now become accustomed to, and simply moved to expand the number of airplanes equipped with their technology, without offering any increases in bandwidth. The reason that inflight bandwidth has largely remained unchanged in years is because the existing infrastructure did not support the kind of bandwidth that consumers really wanted.
Inflight WiFi works by connecting planes with ground based antennas, but in order to take advantage of the existing networks, they had to rely on antennas that were pointed up, not those traditionally used by terrestrially bound individuals. So naturally, the challenge was that there simply wasn’t enough ground based stations for planes to use while in the sky. Even as more were built, the increase in consumer air traffic largely offset this increase, resulting in speeds that were approximately 3 Mbps and up, and regrettably, that’s not person. It’s per plane.
So Gogo has built a company that provides slow and sluggish WiFi for air travel, based on a network of antennas they’ve put in place, and enjoyed cushy profits from the sale of it to business executives, students, and people wishing that Netflix would run on an impossibly slow WiFi connection. But now, your inflight WiFi is actually moving into the 21st century. Last month Gogo won regulatory approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to begin implementing what they call 2Ku.
Instead of the existing technology that only allows planes to communicate via ground ground based cell towers, now Gogo will be allowed to route internet traffic through a network of orbital satellites. As noted by the Washington Post, this should, in theory, allow for internet speeds roughly 20 times faster than currently technology permits. So finally that 3-4Mbps can become closer to 70. But before you wait for your next flight to marathon the next season of House of Cards on Netflix, know that you won’t be getting 70 Mbps.
Your entire flight will. And don’t expect for it to be cheap. Initially it’s most likely that this service will roll out on Gogo’s most profitable air traffic routes: intercontinental flights. Chances are it won’t be cheap either. In recent years, Gogo has dramatically raised prices on select flights using what they call dynamic pricing. It’s like surge pricing for Uber, but applied to inflight WiFi prices.
That means a $25 inflight WiFi charge before is now over $40. So enjoy your new WiFi speeds (if you’re lucky enough to have them), and the choice of having to pay for five hours of slow WiFi speeds, or dinner for two.
Photo credit: Joseph Younis / Djof