Airlines Working on Offering In-Flight WiFi Service

Several airlines are working on bringing (almost) full-blown WiFi service to flights within the United States, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. We say "almost," because if and when such services are offered, they are not likely to include Skype or other Internet-based phone services, but they will otherwise be a full service offering for laptop and iPhone-toting passengers.

The services will, of course, be offered for a fee. Aircell, one of the companies looking to provide such service, is currently looking at the US$12.95 range for flights longer than 3 hours, less for shorter flights. Competing schemes include a network of cell towers, as well as satellite-based services, with access points in the front and rear of the plane.

According to official doctrine, phone services will not be offered in order to limit passengersi ability to annoy one another with their loud phone voices. No word yet on whether or not there will be accompanying technology intended to limit passengersi annoying normal talking voices, or the sounds of nearby crying and/or screaming children.

Speaking of throttling, bandwidth, too, will be throttled for those trying to grab too big a slice of the networkis pipe in order to ensure a reasonably fast connection for everyone onboard. That means folks trying to stream a movie through iTunes might need longer buffering times. Bandwidth estimates from the different carriers currently lie between less than 3 Mbits per second to up to 30 Mbits per second.

Once these services begin to make an appearance, in-flight WiFi should quickly become the norm in the air transportation industry, according to Charles Ogilvie, Virgin Americais director of in-flight entertainment and partnerships.

He told the Chronicle that, "Wi-Fi is going to be a vanilla amenity. Once you put a product or feature out there and it really starts to resonate with users, it becomes the standard and the bare minimum."

Airlines will be testing and/or rolling out these services ranging from this summer to next year, with Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental, JetBlue (already testing limited Yahoo e-mail, IM chat and BlackBerry e-mail service), Southwest Airlines, and Virgin America all with plans in the offing.