Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Flying the Connected Skies

Flying used to be one of the havens where people were disconnected from the rest of the world. No phones, no radios, no Internet connections.

That's all gone.

A recent flight had me try out the GoGo Inflight Internet service (www.gogoinflight.com), which offers WiFi Internet service on airplanes.

What that means is that even when you're flying at 30,000 feet, you can have wireless Internet access.

I tried it and it worked well. I was able to connect to the GoGo service, create an account, sign up for a "single flight" service and start using the Internet.

Everything I tried worked smoothly. I was able to surf the Internet, check and send email and work just as though I was anywhere else where I work.

The cost of the service is $12.95 for a single flight or $34.95 for a monthly plan. GoGo offers a variety of plans, including a 24-hour plan, a 6-pack and more.

I don't travel enough to warrant a monthly subscription, but the single flight purchase served me well.

The speed of the service was pretty slow. It equated to what was essentially dial-up speed, typically one-twentieth the speed of my home or office Internet speed. Certainly good enough for doing basic work, but not enough to use Netflix to watch movies, Skype to make phone calls or other functions that require reasonably fast, uninterrupted service.

Having heard of GoGo in the past, I thought it was satellite-based. In fact, it's terrestrial-based. Instead of having antennas pointed to the Earth, GoGo has towers across the country that face skyward. Electronics on the airplane handle the local WiFi connectivity and transmit the signals to the ground-based towers.

As GoGo is terrestrial based, it only works over land and doesn't work on flights to destinations such as Hawaii where large portions of the flight are over water. The GoGo service is currently domestic (lower 48 states) only.

Of particular interest to me was the fact that once I had purchased a license, it worked on all of my WiFi-enabled devices: my laptop computer and both of my mobile phones.

The only restriction was that I could only use one device at a time. In order to use the WiFi on my mobile phone, I had to log off of GoGo on my laptop then log in on my phone. I can live with that, but it would be nice to have been able to use more than one device at the same time, as I do on the ground.

What I did like was the fact that I could take care of some business and personal functions during the down time of the flight, leaving me more time to spend with the people I was going to see when I landed.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 20 April 2011.
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