WiFi On Airplanes Coming. Does That Mean Airborne Skype?

from the we-can-hope dept

The New York Times says that several airlines are testing in-flight Internet services. JetBlue will apparently be offering free, but crippled service that includes only email and instant messaging. And Crunchgear suggests it will be even more crippled than that: only Yahoo! and BlackBerry-based mail and IM will be supported. For a lot of travelers (including me) that will be completely useless, although I guess something is better than nothing. At the opposite extreme, American (along with Alaska Air) is reportedly working on full-featured Internet access that will allow you to use the applications of your choice, but it will apparently cost around $10. The Times also notes the most intriguing possibility for this service: that Internet access may mean the ability to make VoIP-based phone calls. It's not clear that the Internet connection will be good enough to make phone calls practical initially, but as technology advances, it's only a matter of time before there's enough bandwidth to make calls practical.

The Times calls this a "pitfall" and says that American won't permit Internet-based phone calls. But I have trouble imagining that ban sticking. Once it becomes technologically feasible to make calls, it will be extremely difficult for airlines to enforce a no-calls rule. There's no automated way to block phone calls, and stewardesses will have a difficult time policing the activities of dozens of passengers. The only way it would work is if the caller's neighbor was willing to rat him out, and I suspect that fellow passengers are a lot more opposed to the idea of cell phones on airplanes in the abstract than they would be about an actual cell phone caller in the seat next to them. After all, cell phone calls are commonplace on buses and trains, and while they're occasionally annoying, they're no more annoying than a loud real-life conversation or a crying baby. There's no groundswell of support for banning cell phone calls on public transit, despite the fact that the annoyance factor is exactly the same. One possibility is that we'd see different airlines cater to different customers, with some airlines aggressively prohibiting airplane-based phone calls and others allowing them. My guess is that business travelers, who generate a disproportionate share of airline revenues, will find the ability to get work done on the airplane to be worth the minor inconvenience of occasionally having to listen to a neighbor's phone call, and so airlines that permit calls will be more profitable.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Dale, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 5:48pm

    not the same

    "There's no groundswell of support for banning cell phone calls on public transit, despite the fact that the annoyance factor is exactly the same." - not quite

    On a train, subway or bus, if the cell phone next to you really annoys you then you have the option of moving to another seat or area. Ever tried doing that on a plane?

    As for no groundswell of support for banning cellphones, it was enough for Amtrak to introduce silent cars, which of course would probably be impractical for planes.

     

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  2.  
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    poisonfist, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 6:11pm

    phone calls are much more annoying than a loud con

    I believe there was a study done about how someone on a phone is much more annoying than a actual conversation that may be even louder. It has something to do with our brain trying to guess what the other end is saying opposed to an actual conversation where you can hear both ends. I personally can agree to this and say that someone on a cell phone is a lot more annoying and hard to ignore than the loud couple sitting next to me.

     

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  3.  
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    tym, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 6:18pm

    "There's no groundswell of support for banning cell phone calls on public transit, despite the fact that the annoyance factor is exactly the same."

    Well, in Japan, there is. A groundswell of support, that is. And they tell you so, explicitly, with signages in buses and trains.

    (It's ok to text and read your mail though.)

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 6:21pm

    On my flight home after thanksgiving, I witnessed a passenger who was using a cell phone in the air get attacked by another passenger. I think there will need to be a serious public technology education initiative taken before telephone conversations on flights become tolerated by your average fear-trained joe

     

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  5.  
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    David Mould, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 7:18pm

    Could we be more advenurous than VoIP on a plane

    In Connexion 2.0 I too hope that they don't limit the usage to only email and IM. We always have to consider bandwidth but if the new rollout is as [un]popular as Connexion 1.0 then there should be plenty to go around. One day I hope to catch up some TV while flying between work locations. I mused on what could be possible in May 2006
    http://orient-expression.blogspot.com/2006/05/slingapore-airlinesyour-own-in-flight.html

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    inc, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 9:14pm

    I don't see it hard to disrupt VOIP considering the constant stream of data needed to flow. They could implement traffic shaping and make port 80 traffic faster then other ports. This wouldn't stop savvy users from setting up a machine else and proxying traffic over port 80 but it would keep enough people without VOIP of any qaulity.

     

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  7.  
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    zeroJJ, Dec 7th, 2007 @ 11:36pm

    voip != compatible with satellite

    voip is generally incompatible with satellite due to several factors

    1. latency is the big killer.. the best round-trip latency on satellite is in the region of 660+ milliseconds.

    2. packet loss - mobile satellite data will inevitably have this issue.. sat isp's believe up to 5 percent packet loss is acceptable under some conditions

    3. proxy - most satellite stuff is done using HEAVY transparent proxy and caching, making it extremely difficult to establish real/direct connections to the rest of the world.

    Satellite data is ok for non-realtime, browsing, download, etc. but horrible for gaming, voice/videoconf, etc

     

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  8.  
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    KW, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 2:49am

    Re: voip != compatible with satellite

    I used Skype about a year ago using Connexion with no noticeable delay issues. Even video streaming was working but at a pretty low frame rate.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 5:26am

    and then people on phones always tend to think the other person can't hear them and talk louder, while people having a conversation usually talk just loud enough for the other person to hear

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 6:06am

    Re: buses

    I've ridden a really nice coach bus from NJ to NYC and back where the driver said "Keep you conversations to a minimum, if you have to talk be quiet about it. No cell phones. I don't want people who are sleeping to be disturbed. I only want to hear newspapers." And the bus passengers complied. It was probably one of the best commutes I've ever had in my life! This should become a standard for some flights, or at least sections of a plane.

     

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  11.  
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    Vincent Oberle, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 6:21am

    Re: Re: voip != compatible with satellite

    Same with me. 2 years ago, I used Skype with the Lufthansa Connextion service, and the audio quality was all fine. Video was also working but quality was low.

    This was 2 years ago, since then Skype has improved a lot and I believe it would work even better now.

    The cool factor of making a video call from a plane might help with the acceptance issue: Other passengers might end up saying "wow" instead of fighting :)

     

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  12.  
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    ReallyEvilCanine, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 9:37am

    Re: phone calls are much more annoying than a loud

    You're referring to this study which concluded that "hearing only one side of a conversation makes it more noticeable and intrusive." I would not only rat out any asshole sitting next to me in a plane having a conversation, I would quite likely disconnect his cord myself. What's more, I don't know anyone who wouldn't react (or at least want to react) in a similar manner.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Mark, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 10:08am

    Ever caught a 20+ hour flight

    Re: "There's no groundswell of support for banning cell phone calls on public transit, despite the fact that the annoyance factor is exactly the same."

    Have you ever been on a 20+ hour train ride? No, well how about a 20+ hour plane ride - this is how long it takes to fly from the UK to Australia and the flight is bad enough without some twat chatting on the phone the whole time. Personally I would NOT fly with any airline that permitted mobile/voip services and I am sure there are plenty of people that will be the same.

    Fortunately in London, their is no signal on most of the tube and there is now signs on buses to advise passengers not to put there music on speaker. Although doesn't stop them does indicate that it annoys people (including myself).

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Mark, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 10:16am

    Poor Tim -- must be a hell ofa commute

    There's no groundswell of support for banning cell phone calls on public transit, despite the fact that the annoyance factor is exactly the same.

    So, Tim, I guess you routinely take bus rides of four hours or more. Sucks to be you.

     

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  15.  
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    Rizwan, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 10:45am

    Saw it coming.

     

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  16.  
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    Julie, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 12:07pm

    blocking VOIP

    The ISP can block VoiP calls utilizing rules based automated systems and anything else they want to block including bandwidth. Where do you get your innacurate information!!!!!?

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Johnny, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 4:36pm

    WHAT? Re: phone calls are much more annoying than

    Unplug his wireless internet? Touch someone else's property and earn yourself a punch in the face mid-flight?
    Brilliant ideas! I wish you luck on both of those.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Johnny, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 5:07pm

    Re: blocking VOIP

    There are always ways around "blocks". Always. At most, ISPs simply enable undocumented detours.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 6:45pm

    I personally would put a boot up the ass of anyone talking on a cell phone next to me on a plane.

    How's that for a groundswell?

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 8:16pm

    Re:

    It's a good thing there are people like you who's solution to any perceived personal inconvenience is violence. Otherwise the police would be out of work

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Max Powers, Dec 9th, 2007 @ 1:08am

    Really Mad

    I can see it now. A passenger gets so mad they grab the phone out of the hand of someone and opens the door to throw it out.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    J, Dec 9th, 2007 @ 1:32am

    Works fine

    I used skype on SAS and Lufthansa flights using Boeing Connexion several times and it worked fine for me. Just used it and did no theory on why it worked though.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2007 @ 4:23am

    How much bandwidth are they getting to the plane? All the users on the aircraft share a single connection. 1 person using skype? Sure. 20 people using skype? maybe not. This is also almost surely an asynchronous connection.

    The new JetBlue system isn't satellite based, it's EVDO ground station based.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Julie, Dec 9th, 2007 @ 7:49am

    Re: Bandwidth

    At last someone that knows what they are talking about. Also all the planes in the radius of the groundstation share the same bandwidth. The maximum theoretical bandwidth would be a little over 3Mbps with actual performance below this.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Julie, Dec 9th, 2007 @ 8:17am

    Re: Re: blocking VOIP

    What is being implemented is a wall garden environment, and there are limited protocols being authorised so workarounds via ports are not an option, even if they did exist. So good luck with your port scanning.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Jordan, Dec 9th, 2007 @ 9:52am

    Wow

    I'm really surprised. You are all a bunch of pussies. Its just a freaking phone call. Grow up.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Bill M, Dec 9th, 2007 @ 11:59am

    Baffling

    I, too am more concerned about bandwidth than about people talking (cell phone, Skype, or otherwise). I learned a long time ago "the only way to fly" is with one of those in-ear noise isolating headphones and an MP3 player. Between the roar of the engines, passenger interactions with stewardesses, and the always-mentioned crying babies, there is plenty of noise on planes already. Cell phones wouldn't add much to that, and I would much rather Aunt Suzie talk to her sister in Atlanta than tell me all about her trip to DisneyLand. Unless of course she's cute.

    WiFi on airplanes would enable awesome ways to pass the time whether it's catching up on TechDirt, tuning into Orb on my home PC to watch some television, or downloading email from work.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2007 @ 1:56pm

    Maybe I'm getting too old but I still can't understand why people have this desperate need to be talking to somebody, (phone or email), 24/7.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Wha????, Dec 9th, 2007 @ 7:03pm

    "The only way it would work is if the caller's neighbor was willing to rat him out....."

    Wha???? Maybe you're behind the times of the super technological advancement of something called a "Firewall". You could just block the known ports of all the applications/protocols you'd like to stop outbound. Problem solved.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 9th, 2007 @ 10:28pm

    block the ports

    Can't you just block the ports that skype or vontage uses?
    Doesn't comcast and other ISP's try and keep down vontage by doing this?

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    mart, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 12:40am

    Tried skype on a plane

    ElAl, Israel's national airline, offered free internet access on all transAtlantic flights for a few months last year. I used skype with video and it worked pretty well.

    As it was quite a novelty, I had no complaints from my neighbours.

    If it becomes mainstream, I am sure that it will be pretty annoying.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Kraw, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 4:53am

    if it's ok for the guy next to you to blab on a phone, wouldn't that make it ok for me to bring some portable speakers to hook up to my powerbook so I could enjoy my dvd without headphones?

    Maybe I could just annoy them naturally, you know... in the form of a gas :|

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    BTR1701, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 7:54am

    Re: not the same

    > it was enough for Amtrak to introduce silent cars

    Yep. And anyone who uses a phone on a silent car instantly incurs the wrath of the passengers around him. I've seen it happen. It's like a zebra being pounced on by a pride of lions. So much for Tim Lee's claim that "that fellow passengers are a lot more opposed to the idea of cell phones in the abstract than they would be about an actual cell phone caller in the seat next to them."

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    BTR1701, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 8:04am

    Re:

    > Maybe I'm getting too old but I still can't
    > understand why people have this desperate need
    > to be talking to somebody, (phone or email), 24/7.

    Amen. You and me both.

    People actually seem to be addicted to these things. I've watched people coming into movie theaters or various occasions and the first thing most of them do when they sit down is pull out their cell phones. Often they don't even make calls or text. They just mindlessly scroll up and down through their contact list or bounce between the menus. It's a bizarre phenomenon and actually mimics the psychological signs of addiction in many ways.

    Personally, one of my favorite rituals every Friday is taking off the damn cell phone and throwing it in a drawer until Monday. For me it's a relief when I can free myself from the damned thing.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 10:49am

    As has already been pointed out: Length of trip, can't move seats, etc, etc.

    Add me to the list of very frequent business travelers who strongly hopes that voice calls, no matter what the underlying tech, do NOT make it onto scheduled airlines.

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 12:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: by BTR1701

    It is probably because their brains are empty.

     

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