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Count Zarth
08-20-2008, 11:33 PM
****ing awesome. I look forward to posting on the planet from the air.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/08/20/BU2E12F1JB.DTL

(08-20) 18:29 PDT -- One of the country's last Internet-free zones was plugged in Wednesday as a fleet of American Airlines jets became flying Wi-Fi spots, offering passengers full, in-flight Web access - except for phone calls.

E-mailing and messaging from 30,000 feet became reality with the launch of Gogo, a service from Aircell that was introduced on three nonstop routes, from New York to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami.

The first such service in the United States, Gogo promises wireless broadband at your seat, enabling fliers to keep working, and playing, on the device of their choice.

The proposition is a double-edged sword - yes, you can catch up on your work e-mail, but you have one less excuse to avoid it.

Judging from the reception on the first flight out of New York Wednesday, that's a troubling dilemma - for about five minutes.

"It's a little bit of a drag, because flying is sort of my downtime," said Ty Ahmad-Taylor, a New York product developer for MTV Networks, who was among the first to try the service. "But it's fantastic to be connected for the productivity you get. I was also able to chat and watch my Slingbox video."

American's Gogo is the first of many Wi-Fi offerings planned for the skies. Delta, Continental, Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska and Virgin America all are planning to offer similar service in coming months, some through New Jersey's Aircell.

The service is a breeze to use; the biggest initial hitch is probably the price - $12.95 for flights over three hours. Once you've decided to go for it, getting connected is as simple as locating the Gogo service among the Wi-Fi options on your wireless device and signing in. The service even includes access to the Wall Street Journal online.

Performance varies depending on how many people are online and what applications they're using. It also can be affected by the plane's proximity to Aircell's 92 ground antennas, which beam the data back and forth using cellular technology.

For the most part, the connection delivered speeds of about 500 to 800 Kbps. Early in the flight, it hit 1.3 Mbps, but there also were a couple of moments when service slowed to dial-up speeds, below 100 Kbps.

When that happens, video is one of the first applications to suffer. At one point during our flight to Los Angeles, I struggled to watch a one-minute clip on biofuels from the Associated Press. But those moments were the exception, and I was able to pull up a replay of the U.S. women's volleyball team defeating Italy, after a couple of buffering hiccups. YouTube videos also were delivered smoothly.

"There will be peaks and valleys, but that's the nature of the beast with wireless," said Jack Blumenstein, CEO of Aircell. "But imagine trying to run wires up to 30,000 feet."

While watching video or tuning into online content is a nice feature, an increasing number of airplanes offer seat-back televisions that allow passengers to feel less isolated from the real world in flight. The real magic here is the ability to keep in touch, real-time, with people on the ground while cruising high above the Rockies. Being able to send instant messages to friends seemed like a guilty pleasure. Answering e-mails felt vaguely illicit. But being able to broadcast the experience in flight over Facebook was empowering and pretty cool.

Of course, there are limits to all this Internet freedom. The experience can be slowed by others or even Aircell, which can ration bandwidth for heavy users. Internet phone services like Skype are not allowed and have been disabled. But the ban seems to be applied application by application, so other options like AIM voice chat were still working.

Also, for a five-hour flight, battery life can become an issue, as it did with my laptop. Come to think of it, maybe that's why the Wi-Fi traffic eased up toward the end of the flight. And if you try to visit some racy or inappropriate sites, expect to be approached by flight attendants who will ask you to close out of them.

Still, the service is hard to ignore. And it's not just for business travelers. With Nintendo DS handhelds, iPhones and ultra mobile notebooks all equipped with Wi-Fi, there are plenty of people who will get a kick out of staying connected in flight.

Officially, the airline has said it is reserving the option to shut down the service in three to six months after it evaluates its performance and acceptance by passengers. But early signs suggest that Gogo will take off, said Charlie Wilson, an American Airlines spokesman.

"This is huge for us," Wilson said. "How long did it take Marconi and the Wright brothers to get together? And that's what we have here in this convergence, two vastly different approaches to bringing people together and communicating."

Guru
08-20-2008, 11:59 PM
Chaching!!!!!