In-Flight Broadband Imminent

Many people have a fear of flying--not a fear of the actual flight (or its lack of success), but a fear of being disconnected from the skein of communications that we now have ubiquitously on the ground. Fear begone! We're about to enter a new age of business travel, in which our ground-based devices work as effectively above 10,000 feet in the air as at ground level.

Aircell announced today that their national air-to-ground in-flight network, called "gogo," was ready for action. The company, which won critical spectrum licenses in an auction in mid-2006, has signed American Airlines for a 15-plane cross-country trial and Virgin America for its entire fleet. You'll use Wi-Fi to connect. Service will cost about $10 for hops of 3 hours or less and $13 for cross-country flights, although some partnerships with aggregators are planned, as well as a frequent-flyer unlimited monthly service. (Alaska, JetBlue, and Southwest will deploy or test other systems.)

If you've been nearing the end of a telephone contract and were considering which new BlackBerry or other smartphone to buy, make sure you get one with Wi-Fi built-in if you're a frequent flyer. BlackBerry keeps spitting out more Wi-Fi-enabled models, partly to assuage enterprise users who wanted faster speeds on their own networks, and Apple's EDGE/Wi-Fi iPhone is selling in the millions.

You won't be able to use cell services on planes--not even for text messaging or email--at this point. In Europe and Asia, by contrast, mobile calling and texting will be all that's offered initially. Emirates airline went live with mobile access on a single plane recently, and RyanAir is adding service to its entire fleet.

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