If you’re considering an investment in inflight Wi-Fi service for your aircraft or looking to upgrade your existing service, making the right choice will have an impact on your communications capability, not just today, but likely for many years to come. So it’s important to understand the many variables that may influence your decision.
Today’s business travelers expect to be able to connect to the Internet, make calls, and text during a flight. It’s no longer a luxury, but a necessity, and expectations for system performance are high, considering what we experience on the ground.
Based on the network you choose, transitioning your online activities from your office on the ground to your office at 35,000 feet either can go without a hitch, or could force you to pause what you’re doing until you arrive at your destination.
With that in mind, these five questions can help you choose an inflight network provider.
1 Does network speed matter?
When it comes to wireless connectivity on the ground or in the air, you hear a lot about speed. Sure, speed matters, but it’s only one factor to consider. Think of it this way: network speed is like the speed limit on a highway. It tells you how fast you can go, but it doesn’t tell you how fast you will go – an important distinction. Your actual experience will depend on speed, plus other factors, such as: network capacity, network reliability and redundancy (availability of more than one signal, e.g., 3G and 4G), coverage, and the equipment you have onboard.
2 What’s the difference between network speed and network capacity?
If speed tells you how fast you can drive on a highway, capacity tells you how many lanes the highway has. The more lanes you have, the more likely you can reach the speed limit when others are driving on the same highway. A network with greater capacity can deliver a better experience to all users because it’s built to handle influences such as traffic volume, the number of devices connecting simultaneously, bandwidth usage, available spectrum (the radio frequency over which all wireless communications signals travel), and reliable infrastructure.
3 How reliable is the network?
To continue with the driving analogy, is your highway full of potholes, construction zones, and detours? Are there any bridges out? If so, you’re likely to be frustrated. The same holds true with an inflight network. Infrastructure, technological reliability, and spectrum interference (or ambient noise) can have a major impact on performance. Look for a seamless network of towers, sufficient spectrum, proven and tested equipment, and advanced antennas.
4 How vast is the coverage area?
A good highway doesn’t suddenly stop in Kansas. If you’re flying from New York to Los Angeles, you want to be sure you can conduct all your online activities throughout the flight. Therefore, it’s important to make sure the network you choose will keep you seamlessly connected wherever you fly. Ask about network infrastructure, because if the guts of the network aren’t in place with a fully built infrastructure including towers, satellites, sectors, and redundancy, then you’re likely to have a less-than-optimal experience.
5 What do you want to do and what will it cost?
Activity such as streaming video requires high levels of bandwidth, while email requires much less. Even if you can stream video while in flight, it might be cost-prohibitive. You might want to consider other alternatives for inflight entertainment that can deliver the latest Hollywood hits and/or TV series from an onboard server. That way you can control costs and won’t consume large volumes of data.
When you’re ready to consider a connectivity provider for your aircraft, these five questions will help ensure you choose the provider that best meets your needs. BAA
Sergio Aguirre is Senior Vice President and General Manager, Gogo Business Aviation. An aviation industry veteran with more than 30 years of experience, he joined Gogo in 2007 and launched several of Gogo’s marquee products.