FCC proposal may greatly improve airplane Wi-Fi

By on May 10, 2013, 4:30 PM

The FCC has proposed freeing up as much as 500MHz of spectrum for the purpose of impoving airplane Internet connectivity during flight. The bump in bandwidth could be a boon for airborne Internet junkies but may come at the expense of commercial satellite communications.

Outgoing FCC chairman Julius Genachowski believes the move will lead to greater competition amongst services offering in-flight broadband, thus increasing quality, performance and selection of air-to-ground Internet services.

Of course, that spectrum has to come from somewhere and it appears orbital communications may be the loser in the FCC's give-and-take plan for better airplane broadband. The FCC intends to offer the 14,000-14,500 GHz "Ku" band to bolster ATG Internet; unfortunately though, that same block of spectrum is also used by commercial satellite communications.

Satellite communications generates over one-billion in revenue annually for North America alone. Unsurprisingly, the Satellite Industry Association does not support the proposal. The consortium believes the plan will lead to degradation of satellite network performance.

"SIA has filed with the Commission detailed technical analyses that demonstrate that the proposed air-ground service would cause interference into the satellite services that are primary in that band and are relied upon by media, enterprise, public safety and U.S. military customers for essential services." 

Source: satnews.com

However, the FCC contends it will only license currently unused portions of the 14K-14.5K spectrum with plans to auction off the block to a couple of different companies. Incidentally, the FCC believes this will leave today's satellites unaffected, although this may limit future satellite network growth.

In 2006, Aircell -- owner of in-flight Wi-Fi operator Gogo -- dropped nearly $32 million on a comparatively tiny 3MHz slice of wireless spectrum. When compared to Gogo's 3MHz, 500MHz is an enormous slice of sky pie. Although Gogo has traditionally offered air-to-ground broadband at speeds neighboring 3Mbps, the company recently began rolling out its new 10Mbps ATG-4 service. Gogo claims "hundreds" of planes are scheduled to benefit from the service by the end of 2013.

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