AT&T Gets Airborne: Wireless Giant Tries In-Flight WiFi

Competition is heating up in the airline industry, with the wireless provider promising to go toe-to-toe with GoGo on the in-flight wireless front. The mobile provider promises 4G LTE access across the continental U.S.

This isn’t just GoGo’s game anymore.

Less than a month after the in-air wireless provider announced that it was looking to speed up its offerings in the sky, a new competitor has appeared—and this one already has a lot of customers on the ground.

On Monday, AT&T announced that it would offer a new 4G LTE-based wireless network for planes, working directly with aerospace company Honeywell to roll it out. And the company has hinted that “onboard entertainment,” possibly video, might be part of the package deal, unlike most in-flight networks.

“We are building on AT&T’s significant strengths to develop in-flight connectivity technology unlike any other that exists today, based on 4G LTE standards,” AT&T Chief Strategy Officer John Stankey said in a news release. “We believe this will enable airlines and passengers to benefit from reliable high speeds and a better experience.”

For the tech nerds out there, it’s worth noting that the technologies driving AT&T’s new offering differ from GoGo’s forthcoming upgrade. In GoGo’s next iteration, the wireless provider will be using a new type of antenna that allows it to connect to the internet via multiple satellites, making its offering particularly beneficial for international fights in that it doesn’t have to connect to the ground.

AT&T, meanwhile, will be relying on air-to-ground technology, making it a better fit in the continental U.S. (GoGo’s current offering, which is slower in speed, uses air-to-ground technology.)

Nonetheless, AT&T and Honeywell believe they have an opportunity to top their in-air competition. A recent Honeywell study found that nearly 90 percent of air passengers worldwide had frustrations with their in-flight wireless experience. And for many, WiFi is quickly becoming a requirement—more than three-quarters of surveyed fliers believe wireless access should be available on every flight.

AT&T has a pretty solid offering to build on, with $140 billion in infrastructure on the ground and 116 million wireless subscribers nationwide.

No word yet on what airlines are on board, however, or whether voice conversations might be part of the deal. The company told ArsTechnica that more details will be revealed prior to the service’s launch in late 2015 and that the network will “comply with all current regulations and rules that exist in the airline industry today.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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