Tuesday, May 12, 2009

AirTran Vows to Have All Planes Wi-Fi by Mid-Summer

--Written from on board an AirTran flight from Baltimore Washington International over the East Coast --

AirTran said today it would have all 136 of its 737 and 717 aircraft equipped with the Aircell Gogo Wi-Fi service by mid-summer.

AirTran's announcement, held until this morning, was preempted, it seems to me, by an announcement yesterday afternoon from Delta Air Lines that it had completed installation of the Gogo Wi-Fi system on half of its 300 planes in its mainline domestic fleet, including all of the MD-88s, with the rest of the fleet to be completed by September.

That would seem to set up a kind of race between Delta and AirTran in their respective promises to be the first to have all domestic aircraft equipped with Wi-Fi by the end of summer. Delta, of course, has a fleet that is twice as big.

Aircell is the leader in in-flight Internet. In 2007, American Airlines and Virgin America became the first U.S. airlines to announce they would install Gogo Wi-Fi, but the rollout has been slow through the industry.

Also, bandwidth seems to be limited, at times. On this demo flight, a handful of reporters using Wi Fi had to suddenly power down to enable the Today Show to go live with a feed. Television sucks up all energy! (Actually, the demands of broadcasting live television inflight put an extra strain on bandwidth, they tell me.)

One problem with this otherwise sparsely populated demo flight so far: AirTran planted its own executives and a lobbyist in the coach exit-rows and reserved the front of the cabin for TV. Back here in Row 19F, a cramped non-exit-row seat on a 737, I find it hard to open my laptop screen adequately on the little tray table to see the keyboard, let alone manipulate the mouse. I can't imagine doing it in a middle seat wedged between two other passengers.

If every seat were full, this lack of adequate space would be a real challenge for a standard laptop (though of course not a big problem for notebooks, and no problem at all for those with Smartphones and Blackberrys.

On the other hand, the connection appears to be excellent, including for video streaming.


1 comment:

Glenn Fleishman said...

I was invited on this flight, but it was too far from my Seattle home, given that I did the Virgin America launch (which was a real party) last November. Sorry to have not met you.

I'm stunned they can get enough bandwidth to do quality TV from the air, but I've seen the results, and it's quite remarkable. A single HD single, uncompressed, is 3 gigabits per second. Typical compressed HD over a home network is as much as 20 to 100 Mbps. So they have some neat tricks to squeeze a broadcast signal over 2 to 3 Mbps.