"Can't talk now, I'm about to get on a flight." You'll soon lose that excuse as Gogo, the in-flight technology giant, unveils its new Text & Talk technology. The new system expands on Gogo's existing in-flight Wi-Fi service to allow passengers to use their smartphones the same way they do on the ground, but without connecting to cellular networks.
So you'll have an even better opportunity to get to know your seatmate as you're a captive audience to his or her calls to doctors, lawyers and significant others.
Formerly known as Aircell, Gogo fancies itself as the "world's leading provider of inflight connectivity." It was founded in Denison, Texas, in 1991 and is now based in Itasca, Ill., and Broomfield, Colo.
Download the App
Text & Talk works with both CDMA and GSM-based smartphones but requires downloading the Gogo app, which will allow voice calls and messages using Gogo's Wi-Fi in real-time up to 30,000 feet and at speeds of more than 500 mph.
"The great part about this technology is that it doesn't require us to install anything new to an aircraft and we can bundle it with or without connectivity," said Ash ElDifrawi, Gogo's chief marketing officer, in a statement.
"We have already launched the service with some of our business aviation customers and we are talking with our commercial airline partners about launching the service for their passengers."
Flight crews used to tell passengers to shut off their phones and other devices before takeoff (see Baldwin, Alec). But new FAA rules allow calls made via Wi-Fi with a phone in airplane mode, once the plane reaches 10,000 feet and the flight crew gives the OK.
So, with phone capability increasingly being added to subways and other mass-transit systems, and voice-activated calling and texting common in new cars, communication "dead zones" may soon be as extinct as video stores.
"We are rapidly moving in the direction of having an always-connected personal online experience," said technology commentator Jeff Kagan. "We are getting there with Wi-Fi and other similar technologies. But it will be a while before Wi-Fi is everywhere. Then there are the security issues with Wi-Fi as well."
Seatmates from Hell
But others see a downside to all this.
"I expect Gogo and airlines are bound to run into some or even much resistance from customers who don't care to have their trips enlivened by the constant yapping of usually clueless, often inebriated people seated near or next to them," said Charles King, principal analyst of Pund-IT.
"If or when Gogo's carrier partners decide to institute these services, I hope they also request additional Air Marshals to maintain order."
Gogo's in-flight services are currently available on AirTran, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Frontier, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin Atlantic.