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?