IPass Turns Its Users on to In-flight Wi-Fi

Business travelers and consumers who subscribe to iPass will be able to get on Aircell's upcoming U.S. in-flight Wi-Fi service without debating whether the per-flight charge is worth it.

The mobile service consolidator will include Aircell in the services available to subscribers after the in-flight service debuts later this year, the companies said Tuesday. It's the first roaming agreement for Aircell and adds a critical component to iPass for people who want Internet access wherever they are.

An iPass account gives people access to a wide variety of Internet access services with a single login and monthly subscription fee. The service covers Wi-Fi hotspots and hotel Ethernet in more than 100,000 locations around the world, as well as 3G services in many areas and dial-up Internet access in 160 countries.

Aircell's GoGo service will turn planes on some domestic flights into Wi-Fi hotspots, with cellular backhaul to the ground. Laptops and smartphones with IEEE 802.11a/b/g will be able to connect. Aircell won't allow either cellular or VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) voice calls. GoGo is expected to go live on American Airlines, Virgin America and other airlines later this year. American's service will cost about US$10 for short-haul flights and $12.95 for longer trips. The service will include access to the online Wall Street Journal.

Subscribers to iPass will be able to sign on to GoGo using their iPass accounts, and at least initially, the full cost will be covered under the monthly iPass charge. The service consolidator has a variety of plans for enterprises and earlier this year introduced a service for individual travelers, priced starting at $29.99 per month. There are about 1 million iPass users at more than 3,500 companies around the world, according to iPass.

In-flight broadband has had a rocky history, partly because some service providers haven't been able to make money from it. The Connexion by Boeing service was shut down in 2006 and left aircraft maker Boeing with a $320 million write-off. Connexion by Boeing used satellites for backhaul and cost passengers as much as $30 per flight.

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