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Aircell Signs Up Fourth Airline For Wi-Fi Service

CEO Jack Blumenstein expects there will be some 2,000 commercial airplanes offering Aircell's in-flight Gogo Internet service by the end of next year.
The company is looking into available spectrum in other "large land mass" areas, including China and India. Aircell also is looking at satellite technology to support commercial travel overseas (you can't erect cell towers in the middle of the ocean), but Blumenstein said it's currently too expensive. That's not good news for Gogo users hoping for in-flight Internet access between the United States and Europe. However, Blumenstein predicts a premium-priced satellite service may emerge, available from his company or another, designed for overseas travelers within the next few years.

Gogo is proving it can perform well, delivering up content with no delays, with more than 30 passengers simultaneously using it on some flights, Blumenstein said. Aircell uses technology developed by Meru Networks to provide each passenger with a discrete Wi-Fi stream. Aircell's cellular network uses compression technology to allow speedier transmission of data between the plane and the ground.

As part of the Gogo service, Aircell installs an 800-GB server on each plane -- soon to be upgraded to a 1+ TB server -- that caches content from recently accessed Internet addresses. Since the server doesn't have to keep calling on the network to retrieve Web content already in its cache, passengers get the content all that much faster. You also can expect the airlines to offer content to passengers, such as movies and television shows that reside on the plane's server, Blumenstein said.

Aircell "watches for bandwidth hogs, both applications and individuals," through its network-monitoring service. And there will be consequences for pigging out at the bandwidth trough.

"We don't know what you're doing, or how much of what you're doing, but if you're doing a lot more than what you should for fair distribution on the aircraft, we'll put you at the back of the line," Blumenstein said. That means those using too much bandwidth may see their service slow, while responsible Internet citizens shouldn't have a problem.

Airlines are able to get up and running with Aircell's Gogo for as little as $100,000, sometimes less, Blumenstein said. He added that airlines have many opportunities to recoup the costs beyond charging the $12.95 Internet service to interested passengers. That includes improved operations via the Aircell technology platform that can support Web-based cockpit applications for maintenance, crew scheduling, and weather information.