In Flight Wi-Fi for staying connected while flying

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Long flights are the one of the worst times to be disconnected from the Internet. Fortunately, more and more airlines are now offering in-flight Wi-Fi, allowing passengers to check their emails and surf the web while 40,000 feet in the sky.

So, how does it work? Which airlines offer it? And more importantly, what are the downsides? Is it actually worth the money?
How In-Flight Wi-Fi Works

Have you noticed that after takeoff, your cell phone ceases to have a connection? How do airplanes offer Internet in the sky? The answer to this is pretty simple.

The plane itself is specially modified to have an antenna, which picks up signals from one of two sources: ground stations or satellites.

The first is extensively employed by GoGo, which is arguably the biggest in-flight Wi-Fi provider in the United States. Using a network of 160 overlapping ground stations, cellular signals are constantly beamed into the sky.

Planes connect to these signals by integrated antennas located in the underbelly or under the wing, and the connection is then forwarded through a Wi-Fi router located within the cabin, allowing passengers to get online.
The other method uses communications satellites, like those offered by Inmarsat and Viasat. The advantage of satellite-based in-flight Wi-Fi is that it offers increased reliability, coverage, and speeds. This comes at a significant cost as satellite Internet is far more expensive.


Man using laptop in airplane

Although it sounds exotic, it really isn’t. People living in isolated rural locations have used satellite Internet for years.
Probably the most exciting example of this is GoGo’s upcoming 2Ku in-flight Wi-Fi system. It uses two antennas — one for upstream traffic and another for downstream traffic — to connect to Intelsat’s constellation of communication satellites.

Unlike GoGo’s traditional air-to-ground (ATG) offering, this is available in virtually every country, as well as over the ocean. Although latency remains a problem, 2Ku offers 70 Mbps speeds. Furthermore, its receivers are smaller, which reduces drag and fuel burn.

But there is a way to go before 2Ku becomes the standard. It’s a lot for an airline to change from ISP to a user that switches from Comcast to Verizon.

It does not have to be in its place, but it is housed in the United Nations. No matter how attractive 2Ku is, the reality is that you can wait until the last possible moment to change to it.


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