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While airline customers across the United States are enjoying wireless internet on many of their flights, Australian and international flights have been slow to catch up to passenger expectations.
One of the primary reasons America is so well connected at 30,000 feet is ground towers. Gogo - formerly known as Aircell - a U.S. network and wireless service, has installed a broad range of cell antennae across the country, negating the need to tap into a yet-to-be-developed range of Wi-Fi satellites.
Gogo is a private company, and its widespread coverage in America may be a result of the business-friendly politics in that country. With the addition of 11 more towers this year alone, mostly in the U.S. Southeast, a total of more than 100 are now springing from the tops of buildings, hills and highlands.
"Each new tower is a significant milestone for our company and our network," said senior VP of Gogo's operations Mark Malosh.
The company estimates that 200 million passengers will have its service available on their flights this year, as opposed to none just a few years ago. The prevalence of laptop computers and smartphones has driven up demand for Wi-Fi services at workplaces, in homes and at dining and entertainment establishments. As a result, entire cities are now connecting as many neighborhoods as possible to a main network, and transportation is expected by wireless industry experts to be the next frontier.
Brisbane is testing a new Wi-Fi service this winter on the Queensland Rail network in the city that may be available later this year. Trains and buses in large cities across the globe are quickly implementing wireless services, often in an effort to make public transport more enticing to commuters and business travelers. If wireless technology keeps its current course, travelers may be able to stay connected to the internet for most of their journey and remain online in hotels, coffee shops, restaurants and civic buildings - or throughout entire cities where municipal Wi-Fi is universal.
International flights have some catching up to do, however. Even if Australia and the rest of the world's larger countries install the same ground towers as U.S. companies have, the oceans will prove problematic. As soon as a plane is out of range of a wireless antenna, it loses the connection. Satellite technology is the only current solution.
Satellites may expand the range of in-air connectivity in the next few years. In a report by Australian Business Traveler, Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti explained the timetable.
"We're not there yet in Australia," Borghetti told the news source. "But we believe in the next two to three years we will have that capability. As soon as that capability is available, you'll see us entering that space."
A growing number of U.S. carriers are hosting Gogo's services. United, Delta, Virgin America and a handful of other domestic airlines have signed up with the company. This allows passengers the use of their internet-based gadgets in the same manner as portable music devices - past 10,000 feet in elevation.
Passengers on American Airlines flights (in the domestic United States) can now use an expanded version of Gogo's service, Gogo Vision. According to the company, customers can access its expanding number of television programs and films - and if the show isn't over by landing time, passengers have access to the streaming media for one to three days.
Gone are the days of expensive calls from airline seat phones and squinting at a monitor to see a predetermined movie. The future of in-flight entertainment has taken hold in America and will soon be available on flights across the globe.
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