Some of us crave in-flight Wi-Fi almost as much as we’d like to check our bags without an added expense. Thanks to pervasive free Internet access in coffee shops, libraries, and even in restaurants, some people simply also expect to have it when they board a flight. Meanwhile there are those who argue the price of in-flight Internet needs to increase to provide better access for those who actually need it.
A study last year determined 66 percent of passengers now consider in-flight Wi-Fi availability before booking a flight.
The problem is Wi-Fi in the sky does not come easily or free.
How Much Does It Cost – and Why?
Prices fluctuate widely on airlines across both American and international flights.
FareCompare outlined the average prices on the most popular airlines in America and found them to be anywhere from $2 for individual flights to up to $50 monthly, depending on the amount of Wi-Fi you’d prefer.
Airlines cite significant costs of building and maintaining infrastructure for rising prices of in-flight Internet. They also claim increased demand has had negative effects on the speed they can offer customers. Congestion is also the reason companies like Gogo block access to YouTube and Netflix during flights.
However, there are some airlines, like Norwegian Air, that began offering high-speed broadband Wi-Fi for free on their planes. JetBlue also has a free Wi-Fi service dubbed “Fly-Fi” with slow speeds and bandwidth open to most customers, but they also offer the option to pay for increased bandwidth. The airlines are heavily influenced by the notion that flyers might opt to fly with another carrier just for the Internet service.
How Does Airplane Wi-Fi Work?
There are at least four different ways to deliver Wi-Fi to a flight and each have different expenses associated with them.
1.Airlines generally use either an antenna mounted on the bottom of the plane to deliver air-to-ground connections, or rely on an antenna on top of the plane to receive microwave radio frequencies.
2.Air-to-ground technology (ATG) uses cellular based technology and a 3GHz spectrum to transmit signals of 3G Wi-Fi up to 3.1 megabits per minute. ATG is relatively obsolete on commercial airlines, but can occasionally pop up on smaller planes. ATG-4 is a more advanced version of ATG that utilizes a directional antenna to capture transmissions beamed toward the airplane. It delivers speeds of up to 9.8Mbps and is found on airlines including Delta, Virgin America, and U.S. Airways.
3.Ku connectivity, found on Delta and international airlines, is a 12 to 14 GHz band frequency. An antenna is placed on the roof of the airplane underneath a weatherproof enclosure and transmits speeds between 10 and 15Mbps.
4.You might often see or hear about Gogo Inflight Internet during your travels on popular airlines like Delta, Virgin, and United. They’re responsible for the ground-to-orbit technology used on many North American flights today. It uses both satellite antenna on top of the plane and an ATG antenna beneath the plane to transmit data at speeds that are said to reach 60Mbps.
Gogo also plans on unveiling 2Ku technology in 2015 that’ll use dual Ku antennas on top of the plane and reach speeds up to 70Mbps.
In-Flight Wi-Fi is Convenient – For Some
The availability of in-flight Wi-Fi has been a boon to business professionals who need constant access to email. It’s enabled us to get more work done while we fly, but some people buy it because they want to get on social media. If you’re simply logging on to update your status on Facebook or post photos of your in-flight dinner selection on Instagram, paying for Internet access 35,000 feet above the ground seems a little silly.
Ben Kerns is a fan of all things related to technology and the Internet, especially when it comes to discovering new ways to further merge the two together. When he's not plugged in, he enjoys the great outdoors, healthy living, and singing off-tune to cheesy country songs.