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Up in the Air

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I’m at 37,000 feet flying at 502 miles per hour (give or take) right this very second. I will still be in those same conditions when I publish this post, thanks to Gogo in-flight internet service. I’ve never used it before, and this is only the 2nd time it’s been available to me (the first was on the flight over to CA a three weeks ago, whereas this is the return trip). I opted not to use it then because I just wanted to sleep, but this time I figured I’d give it a shot.

$10 for full access for the duration of the flight, which for a 5-hour flight isn’t too bad. If you fly all the time, you can get a subscription for $35/month or so, but I don’t fly nearly enough to make that worthwhile. You can use the coupon code “SAVE25” to save a little, though I didn’t know that until after I’d signed up and had Google access. Oh well. I figured I’d use some of the flight time to do some work, so I can recoup the investment pretty easily. Plus, it’s just plain fun to write a Facebook post from 37,000 feet. I’m sure this technology will rapidly advance to the point where it’s no more exciting that using home wi-fi, but for the moment, it’s still pretty darn cool.

It only works above 10,000 feet. It’s a cellular land-based service. I’ve only had it cut out once for about two minutes while I’ve been up here. The performance isn’t incredible compared to home usage—the connection latency is about 10 times what I have at home (about 200-300 ms). However, it’s about 800kbps downstream and about 500kbps upstream, which is certainly useful enough. The speed fluctuates a bit; sometimes it’s considerably faster. Here’s a sample Speedtest.net result that I just got on this connection:

They warn about streaming video performance, for people who want to watch Youtube or Hulu or whatever, but I haven’t been doing that. They also say that FCC regulations prohibit VoIP clients like Skype, though there certainly isn’t a technical reason for that as long as they’re also allowing you to browse Youtube. Some of the higher-ups in the bureaucratic control structure just haven’t come to terms with the idea of phone calls on an airplane yet, I guess.

Anyway, I think I’ll get back to the flight. The live map says we’re over Arkansas now, and we’ll be in Atlanta in just over an hour.

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Jason Rowberg June 27, 2010 - 11:11 pm

I think the answer to the whole VoIP thing is that the inevitable consequence of allowing phone calls on airplanes in any way, shape, or form is an entire cabin full of disconnected, self-absorbed idiots babbling over top of one another a thousand different gory details of business, gossip, and their personal lives. The flight attendants union has probably threatened to strike if that ever happens…

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