Sub-Saharan Africans will soon be able to connect to the Internet pretty-much anywhere they are – even while on a domestic or long-haul flight – thanks to a new technology announcement from WirelessG, the company behind SA’s first converged, pre-paid Internet product, G-Connect.
While the technology that will enable in-flight Internet services is depending on Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval, it will be provided through an exclusive agreement with US-based Row 44 who is already successfully offering in-flight Wi-Fi Internet to Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines and in 2010, through Norwegian Air Shuttle. After extensive testing in the US, the first complete set of hardware will arrive in South Africa shortly. This will be used to setup a ground-based proof of concept (POC) here in South Africa to test the complete solution including the Satellites that will be used for the commercial product.
Carel van der Merwe, CEO of WirelessG, says the company is already in negotiations with local airlines, and while the solution is already in POC phase, no information is being released as to which carrier will launch the service first.
Because Row 44’s in-flight broadband system is satellite-based and leverages the extensive Hughes satelllite network, WirelessG and Row 44 will be able to provide African airlines’ passengers with uninterrupted high-speed connectivity in-flight, no matter where they fly—including flights across multiple countries and over water.
WirelessG has successfully integrated its converged billing platform to this new technological environment. This platform, which has undergone extensive testing against the WirelessG converged billing service, will connect via satellite to provide a full range of Internet services such as web browsing, email access, VPN connectivity and web-based SMS.
Van der Merwe says the new solution will dovetail perfectly into G-Connect’s current converged Internet solution and extend the ADSL, Wi-Fi hotspot and 3G Internet access currently on offer from the service into the cloud.
The in-flight Internet service will be available to all passengers on participating flights for a fee, while G-Connect users can benefit from the service as they will be able to use their current G-Connect accounts onboard the aircraft.
“With the G-Connect sign-up process being free of cost and contracts, we are expecting many travelers to utilise the advantage of our in-flight offering,” says van der Merwe.
I don’t have any bandwidth figures (apparently pretty close to hotspot speeds) yet or even prices (update: take a look here for an indication of pricing) for the airborne service (they should be comparable to international inflight broadband prices – Virgin America charges between $6 and $13 depending on flight duration and device type). While this is certainly an exciting development and it bridges the connectivity gap for travellers, I wonder if it is such a great idea for some people, people like me.
I am online practically all the time and getting onto a plane forces me to disconnect and take a break from the flurry of information I expose my poor, under-equipped brain to each day. A flight, as comparatively boring as it can be, is also a forced break and an opportunity to take a break, listen to some music, read a book or magazine (or lots of both using an Amazon Kindle, perhaps) or even get through a full email inbox before the next email avalanche hits. Now that we will have inflight broadband, we are faced with the temptation to stay connected. Having this capability also creates an expectation that we will use it and stay connected to our work, clients and the connected world at large.
I don’t know about you but I’m not so sure that this is such a great idea. At least not for me. You can bet your bottom Zim dollar that I will use give it a go and run a speed test every time, just to see how fast I can do stuff in the air. Beyond that I can see myself turning off the wifi most of the time unless I am on a longer trip and can’t afford to lose the time.
On the other hand, this offering does make G-Connect an even more compelling option for me when I am travelling. I already use it almost all the time when I am out (I still use an IS wifi hotspot account when a hotspot is available) and this will make it even easier for me to connect and remain connected. I may be somewhat of an old fart when it comes to my forced disconnect time but you can be darn sure I will be bitching if I can’t connect when I absolutely have to get something done online!