Gogo's IPO puts a premium on expanding the number of planes that will want Wi-Fi, including business jets. Even though Wi-Fi usage could be considered less than expected today, GoGo's IPO said there were 15.6 million connections over in-flight Wi-Fi in 2011 and that figure will jump to 96.9 million connections by 2015. In a similar fashion, In-Stat has predicted revenues from in-flight Wi-Fi will mushroom to $1.5 billion in 2015.
To improve their prospects, Cravens said the airlines have to offer a broader breadth of services over Wi-Fi, as well as expand deployment to more planes and better advertise their services. Various experts said airlines could raise revenues by requiring fees for Internet phone calls and video chatting using Wi-Fi, although current airline policies forbid such practices.
Airline passengers are already familiar with U.S. Federal Aviation Administration rules that ban using a cell phone in flight. An Internet phone or video call would send the signal to the plane's Wi-Fi router and then to a satellite or ground receiver over a band that is designed to avoid interference with the plane's vital communications.
Still, it's questionable whether airlines would want to sell services for Internet calls that would disrupt nearby passengers, some trying to sleep, airline officials and analysts said. Surveys have indicated passengers don't want the annoyance of voice over Wi-Fi calls. As an American spokeswoman said in 2009, "We don't see it coming."
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about wireless networking in Computerworld's Wireless Networking Topic Center.