Why GoGo In-flight Wi-Fi Is Garbage

Earlier this morning, when I got on a plane to visit Orlando, Fla., I thanked my stars when I found out that I was on a Delta flight with GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi. I had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m. to get to the airport and as a result was behind on my emails, tweets and blogging. A live connection would allow me to do it all. Once the plane was at cruising altitude, I signed up for the year-old GoGo service via a 30-day pass that cost me $30. Being the first one to sign on, I enjoyed a decent speed for the first 30 minutes or so, at which point the connection became unusable. GoGo became Oh no!

Why? Because more than two dozen people are sharing what is essentially a 3-megabit connection. I’m getting download speeds of 390 kilobits/second at best, and the upload speeds are even worse. I could handle slow speeds if the latency wasn’t so dismal; in various tests it ranged between 165 milliseconds and 275 milliseconds. I wonder how GoGo is going to offer movie downloads on its pokey little network. The arrival of LTE-based wireless broadband could change everything, of course, but I’m not holding my breath.

And therein lies the Achilles’ heel of in-flight broadband — for GoGo in particular. As more people start using the service more often, the end-user experience is going to degrade. And because GoGo uses cellular connections for backhaul, it can’t really go faster than the speed of cellular networks, which are notorious for their lack of latency. I think as more and more of our applications start demanding a semblance of “symmetric” broadband, services such as GoGo will start to lose their usefulness.

OK then — back to reading. This Wi-Fi thing clearly isn’t working out.

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