Up until recently, airplanes were one of the last places where you could spend some time being entirely disconnected from the outside world.
Sure, you could place satellite phone calls for $10 per minute, and for some time you could even surf the internet via satellite through Connexion by Boeing. Because of the $500.000 price tag to fit airplanes with the satellite service, the service was quite limited. “Gogo Inflight Internet” seems to have solved this issue. For domestic US flights this service uses cellular technology to equip planes with internet access. Cell towers from Aircell have been fitted with antennas that point upwards, and planes seamlessly hop from one tower to another as you’re in flight. The internet signal is distributed via standard Wi-Fi on the plane.
This is the first flight I’ve been on to offer this service, and I’m absolutely convinced of its value. The price for this 4 hour flight is $9.95. On top of a plane ticket of several hundred euros, this feels like a bargain. (Especially since I didn’t pay for the plane ticket :-))
The plane is equipped with 12V DC power ports. Luckily I’ve got a special cable to connect my laptop, so my battery won’t die before landing.
Being a techie, of course I had to try out the quality of the service. My friend Toon happily volunteered or a Skype video chat, him being in Belgium and me being somewhere over Iowa. The quality and latency were great. Sometimes there is some latency, probably during handovers to another tower, but all in all it’s pretty usable. (After testing Skype I noticed video chatting and other high-bandwidth services are apparently not allowed, though I don’t think I’m using other people’s bandwidth as I seem to be the only one using it on this flight. You are also asked to restrict yourself to “respectful internet browsing”. In other words: no porn on the plane, please.)
Remote desktop sessions over SSL-VPN work smoothly as well.
After a transatlantic flight + layover of about 12 hours it’s nice to be able to check your e-mails and catch up on the news, but as John Troyer put it: “All you people streaming, skypeing, tweeting from your flights: you realize this means YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO STOP WORKING EVER AGAIN”
He’s right, of course. But for a geek like me this still pushes the right buttons. (And I didn’t check my work e-mail. Yet.)
By the way, without logging in you can’t do much, except DNS lookups. I’ll try to get OpenVPN over UDP 53 running before my next Wi-Fi equipped flight (Wednesday Sep 9th from SFO to SEA). I’ll keep you posted.