Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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8/21/2008
12:01 PM
David Berlind
David Berlind
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Photo Of TechWeb's Fritz Nelson Joining The Mile-High Club

My colleague Fritz Nelson is currently on American Airlines' Wi-Fi-equipped flight 34 from Los Angeles to JFK Airport in New York and he and I are video chatting via AOL Instant Messenger (screen shot below). I'm not sure what would happen if everyone on the flight did the same thing, but right now, there's pretty much no latency to the video.

My colleague Fritz Nelson is currently on American Airlines' Wi-Fi-equipped flight 34 from Los Angeles to JFK Airport in New York and he and I are video chatting via AOL Instant Messenger (screen shot below). I'm not sure what would happen if everyone on the flight did the same thing, but right now, there's pretty much no latency to the video.At a cost of $12.95 per flight, the service is provided to American travelers by GoGoInflight.com (offered by Aircell) and is a serious game-changer for travelers and the businesses who employ them for all sorts of reason that I won't even bother going into. But it also raises some questions.

For example, what if Fritz overwhelmed the connection with a video upload (something that he, as executive producer of TechWebTV, might do) and the service to others was degraded or denied? According to Fritz, he's watching a video off of Brightcove and it's streaming pretty well (while he's video chatting with me). But if others are impacted, what's the result? Does someone in the cockpit or at GoGoInflight.com pick up on that and might a flight attendant eventually come by and tell Fritz to cease and desist? Might GoGoInflight.com put the squeeze on Fritz's bandwidth from HQ?

And what about etiquette? Do the same rules of etiquette that apply to cell phone usage in restaurants also apply to video, audio, and/or VoIP call/conferences while in flight? One thing is for sure: Fritz needs a good microphone (with the gain appropriately adjusted) and probably some noise canceling headphones so that he doesn't have to yell or strain to hear me (respectively) or anyone else he might connect to.

Update: Fritz and I have been doing some more testing of video chat and VoIP. According to some stories, users will not be permitted to engage in VoIP connections. For example, according to Salon (thanks to Natalia Wodecki for the link):

Not surprisingly, VoIP-based calls (that means no Skype) will theoretically be blocked, so you won't have to worry too much about your overly chatty neighbor trying to call his buddy in Denver to tell him that she's currently flying over his house. That being said, the Dallas Morning News' Airline Biz Blog reports that it was able to get a sustained Skype connection. Maybe the American Airlines techs haven't quite gotten around to port blocking just yet.

We tried Skype out and had different results. Regular text instant messaging via Skype worked just fine. But when it came to getting a VoIP call going, we were able to initiate a VoIP connection. However, it failed after only a few seconds with our Skype clients reporting an "Unknown Error." However, Fritz and I seemed be doing OK with video chat via AOL Instant Messenger (and what's the big diff between that and Skype in the scheme of traffic management)?

Fritz also is reporting that connectivity isn't rock solid. For example, at the same time, both he and his "neighbor" lost all connectivity. The Wi-Fi "brownout" lasted for about 3 minutes.

Anyway, here's a screenshot of the video chat just to prove this is for real.

Video AIM with Fritz on a flight to NYC

Related News From InformationWeek: "American Airlines Launches In-Flight Internet Service"

See also: Fritz Nelson says he is Air Blog A Go Go

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