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The State of In-Flight Wi-Fi 80

Posted by Soulskill
from the cat-pictures-in-the-sky dept.
CowboyRobot writes "Byte magazine gives a run-down of the current state of Internet access on airplanes. 'All of the services function in basically the same way. They provide connectivity to the public Internet via a Wi-Fi hotspot accessible from the cabin of the aircraft. This in-cabin network may also be used to provide in-flight entertainment services ranging from television network feeds to movies and canned TV shows available from an on-board media server connected to the network. In the U.S., the Internet connectivity is available when the aircraft is above 10,000 feet and is turned off during take-offs and landings. Gogo, the current market leader, provides connectivity to aircraft via a network of 250 dedicated cell towers that it has built nationwide. Fundamentally, it offers the same type of connectivity you would expect to see on a standard 3G-capable phone. The connection is limited in speed to just over 3 Mbps — and all users on the plane share this one connection.'"
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The State of In-Flight Wi-Fi

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    That the news for me...

    • by Hatta (162192) on Friday December 14, 2012 @04:23PM (#42292033) Journal

      Byte died in the early 90s. Bytes from the 80s were thick as your thumb and looked more like a trade journal than a magazine. Then they decided to go for the mass market, slimmed down the magazine and it's content, and became utterly irrelevant. It's a shame, there's nothing today that matches the old Byte.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Oh, man, I miss that magazine. Its subscription was some of the best money I ever spent.

        • by Hatta (162192)

          You can get high res scans of old issues of Byte from this torrent [thepiratebay.se]. It's unfortunately not complete, the guy doing the scanning went AWOL. But there's a good chunk there. They're also available on archive.org if you search. Still great reading.

      • by stox (131684)

        Byte died in the early 1980's, after McGraw/Hill bought them up. Before that, they were the place to go for articles on microcomputing.

    • by lseltzer (311306) on Friday December 14, 2012 @07:00PM (#42295629)
      I'm Larry Seltzer, Editorial Director of BYTE [byte.com]. BYTE survived in print well into the 90's and was then bought by CMP, who stopped the print edition in 98. It existed online for a while, mostly as a subscription-based site which folded in 2009. BYTE is now owned by UBM Tech [ubm.com], and part of the InformationWeek Business Network. Our focus is consumerization of IT, which I define as the use in business and other managed networks of products designed for consumer use. This mostly about mobile devices, and I hope the connection to in-flight Wi-Fi is clear. Incidentally, my earliest memory of BYTE was reading it in high school in the late 70's in relation to the TRS-80 Model I Level I we had. I think there was an article about Z-80 assembler.
  • by GeneralSecretary (1959616) on Friday December 14, 2012 @04:02PM (#42291387)
    GoGo is in the process of upgrading their networks. They are also working on switching from air-to-ground networks to satellite which will allow them to provide coverage over oceans. Newer planes are being built with WiFi in mind. Things are looking up.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ArcadeMan (2766669)

      Well of course things are looking up, satellites are above planes!

    • by lobos (88359)

      Sure, but ATG-4 (the Gogo upgrade) is only 3x the speed, so you'll see ~9Mbps for the entire plane. Some international flights are indeed getting satellite service, but it will be Ku band satellite, which isn't much better. Eventually the planes will have Ka band satellite (as much as 50Mbps per plane) but that won't be live until ~2015.

      Jetblue, however, will have some pretty nice satellite service. They will be using ViaSat's new Ka band satellite and service is supposed to start launching in the next coup

    • The article goes into this some. It's not GoGo who's switching to direct satellite operation, but ViaSat which (as far as we know) will only be on JetBlue, some time in 2013. Ironically, what got us doing this article was when one of us was flying on Virgin and the charge was $24.95 instead of the advertised $14.95. It turned out that this was one of the planes with the upgraded GoGo hardware and Virgin was charging more for Wi-Fi on those flights. This led to an internal "WTF is going on here?" memo and t
  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Friday December 14, 2012 @04:03PM (#42291403) Homepage Journal

    Dear person who insists on trying to run Netflix watch instantly from inflight wifi,

    STOPIT!

    Sincerely,
    Every other passenger

    • Yeah damnit! You're slowing down my porn torrents!

    • by Espectr0 (577637)

      it's documented on the wifi service that streaming sites like netflix don't work, so i don't know if someone tries it will affect other users' speed.

  • I wonder if some of the connection bandwidth could be used to also transmit the flight recorder's data.

    Not sure, however, if it would be a good idea...

  • Simple solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 14, 2012 @04:15PM (#42291807)

    Just auction the bandwidth on the plane
    As long as the rate per minute per kbps you bid is > the available bandwidth, you get it. If somoene bids for $500/minute/1kbps and asks for all 3mbps, let them take it all!

  • by unixisc (2429386) on Friday December 14, 2012 @04:16PM (#42291821)

    That would be a horrendous speed - 3G speeds divided between 100-300 people in the flight will make it slow to a crawl. Gogo's solution that is. Security would be bad as well, since everybody would be on a LAN in the flight.

    I am curious about one thing. Previously, cellphones and other wireless devices were required to be turned off, and the only harmless electronic devices during take-off or landing were the ones that had no connectivity. So what happened that made them allow this today?

    • So what happened that made them allow this today?

      Money!!

    • Nothing changed. As always, you can turn electronics back on after a certain altitude, though you need to keep them in Airplane mode if they are cellular devices (no attempting connection to cellular is allowed at high altitudes). Most phones allow you to manually turn on WiFi while in Airplane mode to accommodate this.
    • by bws111 (1216812)

      Cellphones must be off because of FCC, not FAA, rules, so that didn't change. The devices must still be turned off during takeoff and landing, so that didn't change either. And presumably this is only available on planes that have been certified for it, so that is a change.

    • Money. I don't know for sure, but I'd guess Gogo looked at the 100+ people in the cabin, multiplied by $19.95 (or whatever exhorbitant amount they charge for your share of the straw) and lobbied FAA. As an (in)famous senator once said, "Money talks and bullsh*t walks."
    • by Bo'Bob'O (95398)

      IANAAEE (I am not an aeronautical EE?) but from my understanding, the FAA requires stringent testing of their equipment before it's allowed to be used below 10,000, where above, after takeoff and landing it is a bit more lax, on top of slow rule changes by the FAA such as allowing wi-fi to be used (which was likely the result of some lobbying by the industry). Most consumer electronics manufacturers don't want to bother with such testing for under 10k feet use, and even if they did airlines don't want to h

    • by sl4shd0rk (755837)

      Security would be bad as well, since everybody would be on a LAN in the flight.

      Hmm.. that could provide more hours of entertainment than actually streaming a movie...

    • by timeOday (582209)
      I've used gogo on Southwest a few times. It worked fine for email, text chat, and web browsing. It warns you before you connect that high bandwidth applications won't work and some are blocked outright. Security is the same as any access point in a public place - if you care, use end-to-end encryption.
      • by colinnwn (677715)
        You haven't used GoGo on Southwest, they use Row44 satellite. Maybe you've used GoGo on AirTran their wholly owned subsidiary?
    • Previously, cellphones and other wireless devices were required to be turned off, and the only harmless electronic devices during take-off or landing were the ones that had no connectivity

      FTA:

      In the U.S., the Internet connectivity is available when the aircraft is above 10,000 feet and is turned off during take-offs and landings.

      And, if I remember correctly, all electronic devices should be turned off. Not just ones with radios.

    • by leaen (987954)
      There exists a conspiracy theory that phones were forbidden to monetize in-plane calls for 10$ per minute.
  • When you have emulators?

    Any kind of cross-country (or rather anywhere) flight and I break out my cheap ass laptop and open up ZSNES.

    I highly doubt that any of these planes utilize QoS properly anyway. So the second anyone uploads a file or attempts to sync their e-mail, the entire connection comes to a screeching halt.


    Sometimes people should just take the x hour ride as a chance to relax and catch up on your sleep/reading/video game time. Lord knows that the workaholic middle class could use it.
    • How is a Super Nintendo emulator in any way comparable to WiFi when they're looking for a way to stay connected to the internet while they're traveling? I'm glad you can so easily be amused by your foresight to entertain yourself in such a lightweight manner, but for some people there's business to do, people to contact, emails to write, travel arrangements to make, and countless other tasks that someone would want and need internet for.
      • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Friday December 14, 2012 @04:35PM (#42292365)

        How is a Super Nintendo emulator in any way comparable to WiFi when they're looking for a way to stay connected to the internet while they're traveling? I'm glad you can so easily be amused by your foresight to entertain yourself in such a lightweight manner, but for some people there's business to do, people to contact, emails to write, travel arrangements to make, and countless other tasks that someone would want and need internet for.

        Hit up up down down left right left right b a select start and you get full broadband access from any SNES emulator.

      • My entire point was that BECAUSE this access exists, people find shit that they "HAVE" to do.

        Your world will not end if you are cut off from the Internet for a few hours.
        If you can't get that stuff done before you get on a plane, then you probably have more issues with time management than anything else.
    • by Hatta (162192)

      A lack of network access is a sure fire way to ensure you pick a game that's not reasonably completable without a faq. So many games during the NES and SNES era just didn't give you enough information, so you'd have to buy the guide or subscribe to Nintendo Power. These days it's GameFaqs.

      Yes, it's cheating. But I play games to have fun, and looking around for hours and hours without making progress is no fun at all. I do always give myself a couple hours to really make sure I'm stuck.

      • A lack of network access is a sure fire way to ensure you pick a game that's not reasonably completable without a faq. So many games during the NES and SNES era just didn't give you enough information, so you'd have to buy the guide or subscribe to Nintendo Power. These days it's GameFaqs.

        Yes, it's cheating. But I play games to have fun, and looking around for hours and hours without making progress is no fun at all. I do always give myself a couple hours to really make sure I'm stuck.

        I would agree with that for most of the NES games that required thought, but most SNES games could be completed without them. Sure, you may not have gotten all of the special easter eggs and whatnot (and yes - there ARE some outliers that are baffling without some sort of guide -- the latter Lufia 2 puzzles used to piss me off).

    • If the recent Southwest flight I was on is any indication then they are actually doing a fairly good job with the QoS as there appeared to be quite a few people on the plane using the service. The cost was also fairly reasonable, $5 per device for the entire day so if you have a couple connections to make then you don't keep getting hit for the cost. However, based upon their website [southwest.com] they are using satellite based services instead of ground based so they might have a more advanced network.

      They did say the
    • by adolf (21054)

      I highly doubt that any of these planes utilize QoS properly anyway. So the second anyone uploads a file or attempts to sync their e-mail, the entire connection comes to a screeching halt.

      Because nobody has ever uploaded anything or sync'd their inbox on a shared ~3Mbps connection with no QoS.

    • by Incadenza (560402)

      Sometimes people should just take the x hour ride as a chance to relax and catch up on your sleep/reading/video game time. Lord knows that the workaholic middle class could use it.

      The last time I flew transatlantic I was quite happy with my €10 T-mobile Wi-Fi. Allowed me to check and correct the documents that my co-workers created (and that I brought along on the laptop), save PDF copies in Dropbox and mail links to the files to the client. It all went fast enough for me, and the big plus was that I could spend the next morning sleeping my jet lag off instead of trying to figure out the hotels WiFi (which, in my experience, are in the same QoS league as airline WiFi).
      Nothing

  • interesting setup (Score:5, Interesting)

    by datapharmer (1099455) on Friday December 14, 2012 @04:35PM (#42292393) Homepage
    The setup of these systems is actually rather interesting from a FOSS perspective. They appear to run a redhat derivative and squid and use some interesting tricks to control access to the network. I figure the squid is probably caching locally on the plane to lower the bandwidth consumption, but haven't really invetigated too far. The network routing is more interesting: If you hard code the DNS they will tamper with the route and either null route you or redirect to their sign-up page. But there are some exceptions, such as google for example: if you force https you can access google and related results just fine, but attempting to access gmail (even via mail.google.com) will result in a timeout even over https. You can also access a few sites for free such as amazon. Since you can hard-code the related IP addresses for google or amazon, it has been theorized that you could setup a proxy via google's servers or amazon's servers and get out that way by directing all lookups to that IP address from your hosts file or equivalent. When authenticating directly they appear to use ARP records to determine who is restricted and who isn't, so arp or mac spoofing would probably allow a non-paying customer to use a paying customer's credentials (albeit at the expense of probably making both connections pretty intolerable). The routing is most likely handled within the plane after a global sign-in is performed, but I haven't confirmed this.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      ...so arp or mac spoofing would probably allow a non-paying customer to use a paying customer's credentials (albeit at the expense of probably making both connections pretty intolerable).

      That's how I do it. After I gather a list of active MAC/IP addresses on the network via a quick `nmap -sP` on the local subnet, I have a script that iterates through the list, spoofs my MAC address, statics the associated IP address, sets the DNS servers and gateway manually, and tests via wget for an active connection. Eventually it gets through once it's found a MAC/IP combo of somebody that's already purchased a connection.

      Interestingly enough, the connection is quite stable...I'm not sure how it is

  • by Phasma Felis (582975) on Friday December 14, 2012 @04:38PM (#42292445)
    "My access to global information networks from a pocket-sized computer while flying miles above the earth is so slow that I can only watch pornography in standard definition!"
  • by Anonymous Coward

    My phone and tablet (Android) were able to get gmail and Google Maps data for free on my last round of flights a month ago. I was able to "chat by email" with my wife.

  • you can perhaps view one tweet per flight. sounds like the peanuts, pillow, blankets, and complimentary baggage services.

  • All I can say is that Internet access on a plane (even with limited speed) is awesome!!!! It completely changes how I view air travel as I can still get work done.

  • Leased Tower Space (Score:5, Informative)

    by Princeofcups (150855) <john@princeofcups.com> on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:30PM (#42295111) Homepage

    "a network of 250 dedicated cell towers that it has built nationwide"

    I worked on this project for a time, and this might be a minor point, but they do not have dedicated cell towers. Most of their antennas are on towers that are owned by third parties. It's much easier to lease space on someone else's tower than to have to deal with the politics and cost of erecting your own.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      It's much easier to lease space on someone else's tower than to have to deal with the politics and cost of erecting your own.

      So, it's like watching porn.

  • Any kind of encryption? Or would running wireshark for the flight give lots of interesting info?

  • I recently flew cross country on a business trip. I flew American Airlines and had two flights out and two flights back. I purchased the daily pass on the first flight out and it worked fine for e-mail, vpn, remote desktop, etc. Unfortunately, even though all of the flights said they were wifi enabled (and the crew mentioned the wifi availability on all four flights), the first flight was the only one during which I could see the GoGo SSID. So, I feel kind of ripped off because I purchased the daily pas

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