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Hot topic: in flight communications

In flight communications is a hot topic today on TechMeme.  Two separate stories — the Wall Street Journal's WiFi in the Sky (related stories), and InfoWorld's FCC says no to mobile calls on airplanes (related stories) have kicked off a torrent of commentary. 

It's likely that in-cabin WiFi will be available from US carriers by early next year.  And while the FCC has ended hearings on cellular conversations while airborne for now, it appears inevitable in the future.  A spectrum license has alread been sold to AirCell Inc. to provide the service.  And in the meantime, AirCell is also the provider of in-cabin WiFi.

What makes the service particularly attractive to airlines is that they will share revenue with AirCell. The service will cost about the same as existing WiFi offerings. Mr. Blumenstein says it will charge no more than $10 a day to passengers. It will also offer discounted options for customers and tie into existing service programs like T-Mobile, iPass and Boingo.

The pricing seems fair, and an agreement between AirCell and the airport WiFi service providers would be killer for travellers. The icing on the cake, of course, would be power at every seat in the cabin. 

And what of VoIP? 

AirCell will block voice calls over the Internet with services like Skype — except for pilots, flight attendants and air marshals, who will be allowed to talk to people on the ground for scheduling, safety and security issues.

Right… until those savvy fliers recognize that all they need to do is encapsulate that VoIP conversation in a VPN tunnel.

Update: Russell Shaw notes that since flight attendants and pilots will be able to make VoIP calls, it's probably just a matter of time until the airlines have to give in to passengers doing it too.

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