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AT&T Announces 4G LTE In-Flight Internet Connectivity

AT&T says that it will be launching "a high-speed 4G LTE-based in-flight connectivity service for airlines and passengers in commercial, business and general aviation." Concurrently, Honeywell Aerospace said that it would be the exclusive hardware provider of domestic air-to-ground communications for the AT&T in-flight services. Both companies said the service could be available as soon as the end of next year.

Neither company provided much information as to what portion of the spectrum the in-flight service would use, or how it would comply with FCC and FAA regulations. However, according to the information provided by AT&T, it doesn’t seem that the company will be using the 800 MHz spectrum currently used by Gogo for its in-flight Internet, to provide the planned 4G-LTE service. According to AT&T, "To deliver this new service, AT&T plans to build an innovative air-to-ground network in the continental United States, based on global 4G LTE standards, to provide fast speeds and efficient utilization of spectrum already owned by AT&T. As the architect and operator of the nation’s most reliable 4G LTE network, AT&T has the expertise, spectrum and financial strength to transform airborne connectivity."

Gogo built out an extensive network of ground stations to support its in-flight Internet service, but AT&T’s press release says: "AT&T does not expect additional capital expenditures required for this initiative to be material, nor will it have any impact on the company’s previously-announced financial guidance."

"Everyone wants access to high-speed, reliable mobile Internet wherever they are, including at 35,000 feet," said John Stankey, AT&T’s chief strategy officer. "We are building on AT&T’s significant strengths to develop in-flight connectivity technology unlike any other that exists today, based on 4G LTE standards. We believe this will enable airlines and passengers to benefit from reliable high speeds and a better experience. We expect this service to transform connectivity in the aviation industry--we are truly mobilizing the sky."

Honeywell recently issued a "Wireless Connectivity Survey" indicating that in-flight Internet Wi-Fi currently causes frustrations for nearly nine in 10 users worldwide, most often due to inconsistent or slow connections. My own experience has been fairly good with Gogo on Delta flights, after taking the limited bandwidth into account, but I've had problems with the satellite-based Internet from Row44 on Southwest flights due to latency and time-out issues. An additional frustration is that while Southwest does offer video programming via Wi-Fi on its flights, this only works on Apple devices, not Android.

It will be interesting to see how AT&T’s planned service fares.

For additional information, see the AT&T press release Mobilizing the Sky: AT&T Building 4G LTE In-Flight Connectivity Service (opens in new tab) and the Honeywell release AT&T and Honeywell to Redefine the Air Travel Experience with World-Class, High-Speed Wireless Internet.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.