AT&T Begins Countdown to Launch of In-Flight Wi-Fi

by Matt Klassen on May 2, 2014

Unable or unwilling to extend its reach across the ocean into European wireless markets, AT&T has decided on a new plan, expand into the sky instead. This week Ma Bell announced its intent to enter (and dominate) the in-flight Wi-Fi market, and although it’ll be at least a year before we anything concrete, you can bet frequent fliers are keen to see some serious competition enter a market that has to date been quite disappointing.

For the first years of mobile wireless access the airplane served as the last bastion of silence, a dark zone that prevented users from accessing the Internet while on their laptops or mobile devices. It was a time for reflection, for escape, a time to catch one’s breath away from the frenetic pace of life…it didn’t last long. But even with the introduction of in-flight Wi-Fi several years ago now, it has long been a disappointing, expensive and unreliable service.

Almost a year ago the Federal Communications Commission announced its plan to improve the consumer in-flight Wi-Fi experience, noting that the market—currently dominated by companies like GoGo—provides consistently subpar service as exorbitantly high rates. At the time the FCC promised to boost bandwidth for in-flight wireless, and it looks like finally some of the bigger players in the wireless market are seeing the possibilities of expanding into the clouds.

Although AT&T has not provided any specific details about its in-flight Wi-Fi service, other than to say it’ll be a significant improvement on the current offering, the fact that Ma Bell is taking to the skies is really all fliers needed to hear, and given that no other wireless companies have announced their intention to expand into this space, it could be an opportunity for America’s second largest wireless provider to open up some new revenue streams.

The announcement, however, comes as bad news not only for current in-flight Wi-Fi operators like GoGo—who saw its stock dip following AT&T’s declaration of intent—but for airlines as well, who are exploring their own in-flight Wi-Fi and cellular options as yet another revenue stream for their flagging industry.

But if AT&T is able to significantly enhance the in-flight Wi-Fi user experience competitors will really only have one choice anyways, as E-Commerce Times writer Jeff Kagan writes, the “choice is simply to improve and compete — or say “bye-bye.”

As I mentioned, in a market that has consistently provided subpar service and one that has a scant number of serious competitors, in-flight Wi-Fi could be a “very fertile ground” for Ma Bell, offering the company a way of expanding its wireless services without the need for pricey overseas acquisitions.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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