Why is in-flight Wi-Fi so slow?

Molly Wood and Mukta Mohan Sep 3, 2015
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Why is in-flight Wi-Fi so slow?

Molly Wood and Mukta Mohan Sep 3, 2015
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If you’re a business traveler who’s been wanting to catch up on Twitter while you’re up in the air, you’ve probably wondered why the Wi-Fi is so bad … and why it’s so expensive. That’s because there’s only one major company in the game. Gogo controls 80 percent of the country’s in-flight Wi-Fi. Today, the company provides service on more than 2,000 commercial aircraft including American, Delta, United, Virgin America, Alaska Air and Air Canada. Yet, service tends to be slow.

“It’s an old technology, and it doesn’t advance as quickly as our smartphone networks do, in part because the market is fairly small,” says Sam Grobart of Bloomberg Business. “There’s less of an incentive for other companies to develop new products. As a result, Gogo has to build a lot of its own equipment by itself.”

On top of that, it’s pretty expensive to use.

“Gogo is abiding by some very sound economic theory. Unfortunately, sound economic theory has absolutely nothing to do with customer satisfaction,” says Grobart. The problem is that Gogo has a limited amount of bandwidth. Gogo can provide a plane with as much as 10 megabits per second of connectivity, but that signal is then divided by every user on the plane. In order to keep people from flooding the network, Gogo increases the price on flights that might have heavy usage.

It doesn’t look like things are going to change anytime soon, unless a new company comes in to disrupt the entire in-flight Wi-Fi system.

 

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