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AT&T In-Flight WiFi Could Soar

By Jeff Kagan E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
May 1, 2014 6:16 AM PT

AT&T just announced it will be getting into and improving the in-flight WiFi business. It will be next year before this service is available, but if it's better than the current GoGo WiFi service, I think it will be a big success.

AT&T In-Flight WiFi Could Soar

Back in the days before in-flight WiFi, stepping onto an airplane meant we were pretty much cut off from the rest of the world until we landed. It was quiet and peaceful, and it gave us a rare chance to think, read, sleep or watch a movie.

Then Apple and Google changed everything with the iPhone and Android. Today we are always connected. When we are not, it's like we are holding our breath. The problem was that there was no good-quality WiFi connection up in the air.

In recent years, a company called "GoGo" brought us in-flight connectivity, which sounded great. Unfortunately it didn't work great.

I have used it several times and have never had a good quality signal -- and the countless people I casually ask all say the same thing.

Gotta Be a Better Way

First, you have to choose which device you want to use. Will it be your smartphone, tablet or laptop? You can choose more than one, but you are charged for each.

Second, no matter which you choose, the signal always fluctuates. I get several hundred emails every day. So when I try to download my current batch, the signal is always lost and the process has to restart.

Restarting means I end up with many duplicate emails, since those downloaded before the signal faded will be downloaded again at the next attempt. Talk about frustrating.

Third, the speed is agonizingly slow. Remember the 1990s with dial-up? GoGo does let you surf the Web at a slower speed, and at least that's something -- that is, until the signal is lost.

So, as you can tell, I have not had a good experience yet with the GoGo service.

That leaves a huge opportunity for a company like AT&T to do it better.

GoGo Gone?

AT&T has not provided details about the technology or the cost or the speeds or the connection, other than to say it will do it much better and faster.

That's all fliers need to hear. AT&T is planning a next-generation in-flight broadband service. If it works well and satisfies the user, it could be a huge success.

I imagine GoGo won't take this new threat in stride, but its stock price has fallen, and it is definitely in a weakened position.

Its choice is simply to improve and compete -- or say "bye-bye." I have not yet heard what its plan is going forward.

This should be very fertile ground for AT&T. The marketplace is full of countless users who really want and need good quality high-speed WiFi broadband in-flight -- the kind of service they always wanted, but just have not been able to get.

Any way you slice this, you have to admit competition is a good thing, don't you think?

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a technology industry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at

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