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Boe­ing tried satel­lite-based com­mu­ni­ca­tions for in-flight In­ter­net way back in 2003, but failed. how­ever, air­lines seem to pre­fer a sim­i­lar so­lu­tion now. Why did Boe­ing’s con­nex­ion fail then, and why are sim­i­lar so­lu­tions sought af­ter now?

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ser­vices only for lim­ited pe­ri­ods.

Since the tech­nol­ogy was so shaky at that point of time, pas­sen­gers were not sure of how well or how long they would have con­nec­tiv­ity, and hence were re­luc­tant to pay for such a ser­vice. In ad­di­tion, af­ter the 9/11 at­tack, many of the US do­mes­tic air­lines saw a re­duc­tion in their pas­sen­ger traf­fic.

All of this made the ini­tial adopters of the tech­nol­ogy to back out, and fi­nally so did Boe­ing! We can sur­mise that it was a good tech­nol­ogy that came ahead of its time and hence crash-landed quite sadly.

“This re­minds one of the dis­con­tin­u­a­tion of the Mo­torola-led Irid­ium of­fer­ing in the 1990s, which had the vi­sion of pro­vid­ing a multi-satel­lite based voice net­work. The ar­chi­tec­ture was vi­able but the tech­nol­ogy was not ready from cost and size viewpoints,” com­ments Dr Borkar.

Seal­ing the gap

A few years af­ter Boe­ing’s failed at­tempt, Aircell came up with a new par­a­digm called air-to-ground (ATG) for of­fer­ing in-flight In­ter­net. In­stead of us­ing satel­lites, Aircell’s Gogo in­flight In­ter­net used ground- based cell sta­tions just like typ­i­cal ter­res­trial cel­lu­lar sys­tems. The ground sta­tion an­ten­nae pointed up to the planes and ap­prox­i­mately a hun­dred sta­tions were used to cover the skies of con­ti­nen­tal US. An an­tenna in the belly of the plane in­ter­faced with these cell sta­tions and al­lowed ac­cess inside the plane, us­ing a Wi-Fi based lo­cal-area net­work (LAN).

Clearly, such a ser­vice is much more cost-ef­fec­tive than us­ing satel­lites, but is lim­ited pri­mar­ily to cov­er­age over land and not oceans.

Wi-Fi pro­vided by Gogo In­flight In­ter­net

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