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May 10, 2013

FCC Pushing for Faster Wi-Fi in the Air

To 'Help Meet Demand from Travelers'

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is pushing for faster in-flight Wi-Fi for all airline passengers.

The FCC has proposed the establishment of an air-ground mobile broadband service in a bid to make using a laptop, tablet or Smartphone less of a hassle in the air.

“Expanded availability of in-flight Wi-Fi will help meet demand from travelers to connect to a full range of communications services while flying in the contiguous United States,” the FCC said in a press release.

The idea is to have in place a system similar to those that supply homes and businesses because “the reality is, that we expect and often need to be able to get online 24/7, at home, in an office or on a plane,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

Currently there are two types of in-flight broadband services: satellite-based and air-to-ground, both of which are licensed by the FCC. The satellite systems use satellite antennas installed atop airplanes to connect with satellite space stations. This system, however, is shared by multiple licenses which, in turn, causes snail-like load times.

Air-to-ground systems, however, as the FCC is proposing, supply in-flight broadband via a ground-based network that connects with an antenna on the bottom of a plane, which then links to an onboard Wi-Fi system offering service throughout the aircraft.

Getting the system in place and up and running is no small feat, however.

Genachowski said the commission’s long-term goals are to offer 300 MHz for broadband by 2015 and 500 MHz by 2020, but that “will require a great deal of ongoing work.”

“Specifically, the proposal could provide broadband capacity of up to 300 gigabits per second on a combined basis,” he said. “This will enable business and leisure travelers aboard aircraft in the United States to be more productive and have more choices in entertainment, communications, and social media, and it could lower prices.”

The FCC’s proposal is now open to the public for comments. Those wishing to voice an opinion have 45 days to do so from the day the notice is published in the Federal Register. Reply comments will then be accepted for additional 75 days.

This proposal comes just five months after the FCC eased restrictions on in-flight Internet services so airlines can obtain broadband Internet licenses for their planes.

The FCC on Dec. 28 approved an application process airlines can use in a bid to enable Internet providers “to meet increasing consumer demands” and promote the “economic growth and job-creating impacts of ubiquitous broadband.”

Earlier that same month, the FCC also began pushing for greater use of Smartphones and tablets during airplane flights.