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Summary:

Gogo will release an app next year that will route phone calls and texts over its inflight Wi-Fi networks, even when planes are above clouds. Calls on domestic flights, however, will probably still be prohibited.

Airplane Sunset
photo: Flickr / kossy@finedays

Gogo wants to make its inflight Wi-Fi services useful for more than just checking email and posting to Facebook. The mid-air ISP earlier this week announced a service with Glympse that allows passengers to share their locations in the skies, but on Friday it unveiled a voice calling and SMS service that could overcome both the technical barriers and social taboos preventing us from communicating wirelessly in the clouds.

Phone calls and SMS typically rely on cellular networks, which we’re still banned from accessing when the plane’s door closes. But Gogo has developed a way to route those calls and texts over its inflight Wi-Fi networks and then through the CDMA and satellite-based systems that link planes to the ground. You can think of it of like the VoIP calling apps many carriers offer as an extension to their regular cellular voice services – for instance T-Mobile’s Bobsled – expect Gogo’s service appears to be operator-agnostic.

Customers would download an Android or iOS that would route those calls over its in-plane network. Gogo told CNET that the service and app would be available on commercial flights in the first quarter of 2014, but that doesn’t mean that every airline is going to let you make phone calls. In the U.S. in particular, there’s still a lot of resistance to the idea of people chatting mid-air with on their phones, since everyone is typically packed into a cabin like sardines.

“While we see this as more of a text messaging product for commercial airlines in the United States, the phone functionality is something that some international air carriers and our business aviation customers are asking for,” Gogo CMO Ash ElDifrawi said in a statement.

Gogo hasn’t released any pricing details on the service. It could be an add-on or bonus feature for customers who pay the steep prices to connect to its in-flight networks, or it could be a service it charges for by the minute or message. It also raises some interesting questions about whether flyers can use other IP-based communications services.

Gogo blocks Skype on many flights (as well as streaming and other bandwidth intensive services). But if Gogo suddenly starts letting passengers converse away using its voice service, will it allow them to do the same with other over-the-top communications apps?

  1. The airlines hated wifi — was dangerous. Until they could make money off us.

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  2. I will punch anyone who tries to have a phone conversation while sitting next to me at 30,000 ft.

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    1. I’d love to see the air marshal taser you.

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  3. Now make it so I can do that while not flying so I can make wifi calls without cell tower signal.
    Heck give me a number I can only use with wifi and dump the cell phone company this proves it can be done.

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    1. Kevin Fitchard Friday, November 8, 2013

      Actually there are plenty of services that can do this already. Skype is the obvious one, but there are a dozen OTT apps that will issue a phone number and let you make texts and calls without cellular connectivity.

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    2. anveo

      and with that ITSP you can communicate with your Luddite contacts who sheeple-insist on being gouged to use old timey sms texting.

      there are other itsp but less featured: vitelity, for one

      This uses OPEN STANDARD: SIP

      ^ very-unlike skype or other proprietary apps and malware apps (adware is malware) you’d need to have contacts also install to communicate

      search your market or repository for: xmpp client, sip client, voip

      Jitsi is an android app now: combines SIP and XMPP for presence, texting, phoing, and video calling

      android / ios: acrobits GroundWire

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  4. Verizon Messages for iOS and Android already does the texting over data part.

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  5. wow, sheeple

    time to let costly OLD TIMEY sms texting die

    “but I have free unlimited sms texting with my phone”

    FALSE. The COST of sms texting comprises a third, a half, or more of your monthly phone bill!

    xmpp texting = $0.00
    sip texting = $0.00

    It’s NOT-smart to use old timey sms texting on a smart phone

    wean off contacts from SINGLE device old timey sms texting with voip texting

    wake up!!

    stop lemming’ing yourself off that bridge. Apply OTR encryption to xmpp texting to keep the NSA a bit further from your privacy

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