AirCell: Shut the VoIP Up, Even if We Can’t Stop You

Our post on putting American Airline’s Gogo Wi-Fi connection (powered by AirCell’s inflight wi-fi technology) to the test has caused for quite a bit of chatter in the blogosphere. Most of the post focused on our experience in the “Cloud” and watching videos on and chatting over instant messaging services. However, the VoIP call I was able to make to Andy Abramson of VoIP Watch  has caused for the most chatter. Aircell and American Airlines made the announcement that they had rolled out in-flight Internet on certain routes last week, and stated that the network would block voice and video calls. The press release read, “Cell phone and Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services are not available.” Yet, Andy and I found a way around this by using Phweet, a service that uses Adobe Flash Audio. We have been called “hackers” from journalists at Wired and USA Today. Hacker isn’t quite the right word: we used a Flash based service that works in the browser and allows for Twitter friends to make a voice call. Aircell has released the following statement regarding the call that I was able to make a week ago:

It is against American’s policy and Gogo’s terms of service to use VoIP. Aircell has multiple protocols and practices in place to prevent the use of VoIP. Obviously, it is extremely difficult to stop every instance of VoIP but Aircell is monitoring and working constantly to enforce American’s policy and Gogo’s terms of service.

So, even though we were technically able to conduct a VoIP call, what we did was a violation of AirCell’s policy. The question is how and whether AirCell will enforce it’s no-VoIP policy. Will they end up blocking Flash audio or would that also stop many permitted uses, like streaming video? Or will the flight attendants be responsible for disconnecting passengers who appear to be talking to their laptops. I guess I will just have to wait until my next American Airlines flight to find out. We’re also left to wonder why AirCell has to block VoIP in the first place. Do they think it’s rude to have people conducting phone calls using VoIP, but socially acceptable to have them make the same phone calls using the expensive Airphone handsets they have in every row? At one point, it was totally acceptable on most airlines to use the Airphone in-flight phone service, though we are informed that that service has now gone defunct. There are so many other annoying distractions on planes these days: crying babies, surly flight attendants, and, of course, people who talk to each other in person. We’re hard pressed to see how someone talking on a VoIP headset would make things any worse.

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  1. Robert George Says:

    In my opinion, AirCell is blocking VOIP because American Airlines does not want voice. AA wants to block voice so pax will not be aggravated by one-sided conversations. Also, the FAA has ruled against voice transmissions on commercial flights within their jurisdiction.

    AirCell is fully capable of supporting voice, if and when it is approved. Voice capability is currently available on AirCell equipped private aircraft.

  2. johnster Says:

    Don’t get me off on a rant here, but this issue bores me to tears. Here’s what’s going to happen: Soon the providers are gong to plug the e-holes well enough that only the hacker freaks (you know who you are, please forgive me) will be able to stay ahead of them. These reclusive genius types don’t actually get out much, so the size of the problem will be small. Secondly, (if and) when the system is actually used by a lot of folks in a lot of planes, you won’t be seeing the kind of data rates that will make a VOIP conversation fun to conduct. End of problem. Next phase: Cellphones allowed, and possible no-cell-use seating areas. For my money i’d like a no obesity section, a no-bad-personal hygiene section, and a no-kicking-the guy in front of you section, oh yes, and a no inappropriate behavior section too, but i don’t suppose i’ll get that. Also, please tell the airlines to only sell the middle seats to, like, really tiny people, and i don’t mean babies, ’cause they are really really no fun to be near. Of course, I could be wrong.

  3. Bob Says:

    It’s annoying as crap because tween girls who are oblivious to the world around them are annoying enough. People get “cell yell” way too easily.

    Just hang up the damn phone. Your flight isn’t THAT long. *sigh*

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