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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Daily Report: More Wi-Fi Is Available During Flights

After many years of halting starts and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, in-flight Wi-Fi is coming into its own, with 8,700 domestic flights, 38 percent of the total, offering Internet connectivity, according to a report by Routehappy.com, which ranks tens of thousands of daily flights by quality of comfort and amenities, Joe Sharkey reports in The New York Times.

It remains to be seen, however, how viable in-flight Wi-Fi will be as a business â€" though Gogo, which leads the field with systems on more than 80 percent of all Wi-Fi-enabled flights in North America, had an initial public offering of stock on Friday. Gogo, which has its air-to-ground-based system in more than 1,900 airplanes flying domestically, plans to use proceeds of the stock offering partly to finance a planned international rollout using Ku-band satellite technology, which allows the service to work over ocens. That will enable the company to sell its services on overseas flights.

With competitors like Panasonic Avionics, Row 44, ViaSat and OnAir active in the field, market share will be fiercely contested. And the Gogo offering went off against the sobering reality that, so far, only a small number of passengers have been choosing to pay for Wi-Fi, which can cost $12 or more a session. Gogo, for example, said that in the first quarter of this year, 6.2 percent of passengers on planes with its Wi-Fi systems opted for its service, a slight improvement from the 5.6 percent who took it in the 2012 first quarter.

Still, not all supporters measure the fledgling in-flight Wi-Fi business by an admittedly sluggish current rate of use. With a rapidly growing number of passengers carrying Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones and tablets, and with signals coming from the Federal Aviation Administration that restrictions may be eased on the use of such devices during taxiing, takeoff and landing, airlines that fai! l to offer in-flight connectivity are likely to be at a competitive disadvantage, said Mary Kirby, the editor in chief of Airline Passenger Experience, a magazine and Web site.