iChat AV Takes Flight with In-Air Wi-Fi
iChat AV might become the next way to annoy your seatmate. Apple Computer product managers Eric Zelenka and Kurt Knight informally demonstrated that in-flight video chatting could become an alternative to tapping your fingers all during a flight. Two Apple employees, one returning from Germany on a Lufthansa flight, used the Connexion by Boeing high-speed Internet service to communicate using iChat AV and an iSight camera.
Connexion by Boeing offers an advertised 5 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream connection for between $20 and $35 per flight, depending on flight duration. Currently, only a single plane serving a non-stop flight from Munich to Los Angeles offers the service, but approximately 200 aircraft should be equipped for long-haul flights in 2005 and 2006. The service relies on Wi-Fi in the cabin connecting to a phased-array antenna which can communicate with one of hundreds of transponders on satellites operated by Boeing’s related satellite business.
A competing service from Tenzing is offered in 900 planes, but allows only a low-speed email proxy and requires a connection via the telephone in seatbacks. The fee for Tenzing’s service is $15 per flight; it’s offered on many domestic United, Continental, and Delta planes. Tenzing plans an upgrade next year after its satellite partner Inmarsat launches a next-generation suite of high-bandwidth orbiters that will allow Tenzing to offer bidirectional 864 Kbps connections. They expect this service will mostly be offered on some of the 3,000 international planes already equipped with compatible Inmarsat gear.
Another effort is underway to put a picocells, or tiny cellular transmitters, inside airplanes, relaying the service back to the ground or to satellites, effectively allowing normal cellular use while on board.
All of this combined reminds me why I haven’t flown since December, and why I’d rather avoid the talkative skies.