Wi-Fi onboard – NOT FREE

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Just as Aircell warned, the company has no intention of permanently offering its in-flight Wi-Fi service Gogo for free to airline passengers except for promotional purposes or when companies sponsor it at various times of the year (as we saw over the Christmas holidays, for example.)

The message that Wi-Fi is not free is also starting to register with travelers. Check out the photo above. Look closely at what one passenger scrawled above the sign. Cheeky!

Despite an ongoing argument over whether or not people will pay for in-flight Wi-Fi in the long-term, Aircell’s strategy of giving passengers free Gogo tasters, yet ultimately charging for the service, appears to have decidedly more clout these days, after the firm recently closed a private placement of equity securities totaling $176 million.

Indeed, both Aircell and Row 44 are showing some remarkable resilience in a down economy, the latter firm having finally inked an equipment contract with Southwest Airlines to bring Ku-band high-speed Internet to passengers. Airlines and investors, it seems, believe the product is a necessity, and to hell with whether it makes money or not in the near-term (which is great for us in-flight Wi-Fi lovers!).

A company that did focus on offering free ‘Kiteline’ in-flight connectivity – albeit a very basic email/messaging service – for the end customer is JetBlue Airways subsidiary LiveTV.

To date, however, only a single JetBlue aircraft – known as BetaBlue – has been installed with LiveTV’s service. And roll-out on Continental Airlines is now being reported delayed. Read Wandering Aramean’s blog, “Kiteline struggling to get off the ground”, for all the details. But here are a few key pars:

A number of unofficial sources reported over the past few weeks that the deployment of the Kiteline product will not occur by Q2 2010 as was most recently scheduled.  There appear to be issues with the hardware that are preventing the system from performing as expected.  This is pushing the initial install date to May 2010 at the very earliest and that date is highly unlikely to stick either, according to the reports.  And now Continental is confirming the delay with the following statement from a company official:

We continue to follow the progress of LiveTV’s development of Kiteline.  We don’t expect that it will be available on our flights in the second quarter of 2010.

What does this mean in the long term?  Hard to say for certain.  But Continental was the only major carrier committed to the new Kiteline product and they are going to be going ahead with the gogo trial in Q2.  If that is the only functional option available to them for a wide-scale deployment it is hard to imagine that they will choose to continue waiting for the Kiteline product, especially with the number of delays it has seen thus far.

I wonder what this means for Iridium-based Kiteline World product. LiveTV’s live television customer to the North, WestJet, meanwhile, continues to take a wait and see approach to connectivity. The carrier’s social media guru, Greg Hounslow, told me the following last week:

“We are evaluating Wi-Fi right now, looking at it on other carriers from an experience and usage perspective. It’s one of those things that would be a nice ‘bell and whistle’ but we are looking at it from the standpoint of, ‘what is the added value perspective and what is the demand for it’?

“Wi-Fi in Canada is unique in that we don’t have the sort of network coverage that exists in the USA and Europe. We are the second largest country in the world (geographically), and our population is spread out fairly significantly, so traditional ways of using Wi-Fi don’t exist yet in Canada. So that is a big consideration for us as well. There would probably be a fairly significant technological investment for Wi-Fi coverage to happen. As it sits now, we are not turning on in-flight Wi-Fi right now, but it is continually being evaluated.”

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2 Responses to Wi-Fi onboard – NOT FREE

  1. David Parker Brown February 12, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    My bet is airlines will make deals with GoGo or Row44 to offer free internet to their customers. Yes, airlines make customers pay for food, blankets, etc — however others offer free IFE and LiveTV.

    Right now there is a plus with just being able to buy wi-fi. But as more and more airlines have them, my guess is one will step up and offer it for free.

    Either other airlines will follow or just stop offering it.

    You can slow it down, but you can’t stop free internet everywhere — it is the future :)


  2. Oussama February 12, 2010 at 7:08 pm #

    I never thought WI-FI will be free. The question right now is how much would it cost on flights within the USA and more importantly on international routes?

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