Video conferencing, VOIP alive and well on US aircraft

in-flight video conferencing.JPG

Aircell has surpassed the 500 mark – that’s 500 aircraft equipped with the firm’s Gogo broadband system. How shall we mark this milestone?

Let me tell you a story about Patrick Wendlandt of Conferencing Advisors. Patrick recently flew on a Gogo-equipped American Airlines flight and tried out the wireless Internet “and was amazed with the speed of it”. He then pulled out his webcam and fired up a video conference and, voila, it worked!

Patrick was able to speak with the marketing director of Vidyo, a company that has also tried video conferencing on a Gogo-equipped aircraft (the pic above is a screenshot of a Vidyo employee talking back to one of the head honchos of the company).

Patrick says he was using Vidyo’s new h.264SVC solution, “which means it can work up 30% data packet loss/disruption while all the other stuff can only go up to 2 or 3%”. Learn more about the solution at the following link:

whitepaper_personaltlepresence (2).pdf

While Patrick was disconnected a couple times, he was “very pleased” with the result. “I feel like I was talking from the top of the world. I understand the bandwidth upload limitations and so I’m prepared to get disconnected.”

He adds: “I know that the carriers do not realize that video conferencing can be done as most folks aren’t aware of this new technology that can run on such a high frame drop rate. Nothing is even mentioned in any of the advertising for or anywhere else I can find.

“I then went to Aircell, the parent company of and one of their VPs was nice enough to correspond. He basically says to check out this Hang-Up Act and good luck. So from what I can tell it looks like Congress is going to disallow VOIP and therefore probably video conferencing up in the sky.”

Not so fast, Patrick. The Hang-Up Act is not a done deal. In fact, while the House of Representatives did include the legislation in its FAA reauthorization bill, the Senate did not. The two bills have yet to be reconciled, but mobile connectivity providers, like AeroMobile and OnAir, have high hopes that Congress will hang up on the Hang-Up Act.

But do we need video conferencing capabilities during flight?

“If you think about it, when is the only time a business person is not available? During a flight. So now the business traveler can make about every meeting via video conferencing. What is really funny to think about is video conferencing is really being used more and more to avoid traveling at all,” says Patrick, who is happy for you to reach him at

Aircell hasn’t specifically addressed my upload bandwidth query – if you don’t count the friendly note I received this week - but the company has directed me to a very interesting blog post by Yankee Group analyst Vince Vittore, a self-proclaimed “general doubter of the ability of wireless technologies to replicate and replace the wireline experience”.

The entire blog is worth a read, but here’s a key par:

…I approach this expecting significant limitations in speed and application usage. I was wrong.

So what works? Just about everything.

The first speed test somewhere over northern California shows 2.4 Mbps down; 264 kbps up. That’s comparable to a mid-tier DSL connection on the downstream side. The second test somewhere around Salt Lake City when I notice a few more laptops open comes up at 1.46 Mbps down and 286 kbps up. Still not bad.

So let’s run this puppy through its paces, making it progressively more demanding on the connection at each step.

• Launch a VPN session to access corporate e-mail? Check.

• Tweet the fact that I’m 36,000 in the air? Check. Get immediate response? Check

• Launch multiple IM sessions? Check.

• Stream music from Pandora? Check.

• Check out a few random videos on YouTube? Check, sort of. There were a few buffering delays but nothing more than I occasionally get on other Wi-Fi connections

• And finally, a Skype video call to Yankee Group’s Wally Swain in Colombia? Yes, it works save for the bad background noise and the fact that I don’t want to be “that guy making the loud phone call.” Not much I can do about that.

So what have we learned from this exercise, apart from the fact that RWG should take a chill pill and take a ride on another Gogo-equipped flight in the near-term?

VOIP and video conferencing is alive and well on Gogo-equipped aircraft in the USA! And, SHOCK, we’re not seeing any moaning, groaning or air-raging from the general public about it.

Let the Hang-Up Act die the death it deserves.

And let me congratulate Aircell on achieving the 500-aircraft milestone. Now THAT was fast!

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7 Responses to Video conferencing, VOIP alive and well on US aircraft

  1. Jeff G August 17, 2009 at 6:51 pm #

    Isn’t that a Virgin America Aircraft, not AA?

  2. Mary Kirby August 17, 2009 at 7:06 pm #

    Could very well be (and would appear so). But, as mentioned in the piece, the photo is not of Patrick on American, but of a Vidyo employee talking to a fellow staffer via Gogo.

  3. Justin Rolfe August 19, 2009 at 4:41 am #

    I wonder how unusual I am: I just handed my Blackberry in because I’m fed up with never getting time off. (OK — so there’s an off button, but if you have a BB, people exppect 5 minute turn arounds). If it matters, they can call.

    On a plane, I love the chance to be disconnected. It’s the only time it happens these days. When I do work on the plane (which is most trips, I admit), I don’t want to do meetings. Quick IMs to grab status reports from people, perhaps; or quick websearches for that image for the powerpoint I’m giving, perhaps.

    Or is it just me? Is the last invasion of connectivity to 37,000 ft going to mean I never ever get R&R.

    Cruise ships — I’ll put my money on that; and trips to the Sahara desert.

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    Where do you get a background check that sends people out to interview past aquaintances? Is this just how the Feds do it?

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