A new proposal by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could mean you’ll never have to fly without Internet again. If all goes as planned, newly available airwaves would be auctioned off, enabling Internet providers to increase the availability and connectivity speeds for airplane passengers across the US.
Internet service providers currently do not have any access to the airwaves through the airplanes travel. Current in-flight internet comes from satellites attached to airplanes, which communicate either with satellites or ground-based systems. Air-to-ground systems currently operate on a 4-megahertz band which affords roughly 3 MBps per second, per airplane. The new system would operate on a 500-megahertz band, allowing the transmission of 300 gigabits per second spread across all planes currently in the air.
Internet connectivity in the sky has been surprisingly stagnant and intermittent especially compared to the coverage expansion of Wi-Fi across coffee shops and public spaces on the ground. Airplane Wi-Fi has fallen behind, with only a limited number of flights offering Internet connectivity, generally charging unusually high prices.
Even if the proposal is passed, however, consumers aren’t likely to see the new found high-altitude connectivity and speeds for another couple of years. This is just a first step towards building an in-flight connectivity network that can rival home networks. Until then, Internet-craving fliers will need to endure unreliable in-flight connectivity and slow speeds.