FCC’s In-flight Wi-Fi Plan hits Turbulence

by Matt Klassen on May 14, 2013

As consumers continue to clamour for ubiquitous connectivity in this ‘connected everything’ age, government agencies and private sector companies are turning to Wi-Fi as their wireless saviour, implementing the wireless technology to increase connectivity over land, sea, and air, with the latter the latest focus of the Federal Communication Commission’s development efforts.

While increasingly airlines are offering in-flight Wi-Fi services there remain several barriers in the way of mass adoption, namely the subpar quality of service and the price one pays to access it. Recently the FCC announced its plan to boost bandwidth for in-flight wireless, meaning faster (and hopefully cheaper) service for business and vacation travellers alike.

But the FCC’s in-flight wireless plan has already run into some serious turbulence, as the proposal from the government regulatory body is almost identical to the proposal submitted by global chip manufacturer Qualcomm, leading many to question the FCC’s relationship with, or sheer dependence on, the private sector company for developing a nationwide in-flight wireless  development plan.

There’s no question that it looks bad when the FCC’s action plan for developing a usable and affordable in-flight wireless network comes directly from the pages of a proposal it received several years ago from Qualcomm. But while many cry foul and assume the FCC is somehow in cahoots with the chip maker I happen to think the situation is far more dire: the FCC has no idea what’s its doing.

Simply put, it’s a case of ineptitude, not shady backroom dealings, that has the FCC essentially plagiarizing Qualcomm’s 2011 in-flight Wi-Fi development proposal, given that no other private sector company has come forward with any plans and the FCC has neither the knowledge of Wi-Fi deployment nor the resources to gather the requisite information it needs to make its own decisions.

The details of the FCC/Qualcomm proposal involve the following: “The number of aircraft offering broadband service will quintuple from about 3,000 in 2012 to 15,000 by 2021, according to the FCC. The Commission is forwarding Qualcomm’s suggestion of tapping into the 14.0 to 14.5 GHz band to provide a secondary service that would not interfere with fixed satellite service (FSS) Earth-to-space communications.”

The bandwidth the FCC makes available will be licensed to carriers on a 10-year lease with the stipulation that it be dedicated solely to in-flight wireless services.

There’s no question that such upgrades will increase the effectiveness of in-flight wireless services, as connection speeds now, as many business travellers surely know, are truly a roll of the “broadband dice.” Further, by increasing the effectiveness more consumers will use the service, making it a profitable venture for more companies that in turn will drive the price of the service down, making this a much needed upgrade in this ‘connected everything’ age.

In the end, while some are crying foul over the FCC’s apparent partnership with chip maker Qualcomm in developing this in-flight wireless plan, I happen to think the FCC is simply not smart enough to engage in such shady backroom dealings; the horrifying truth being that the FCC’s use of Qualcomm’s wireless plan is wrought from desperation fuelled ineptitude, not shadowy intent.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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