As I travel for business, I find myself offered the opportunity to access ANPI’s data network or the Internet via Wi-Fi on several airlines. Like most dedicated employees, I do work on airplanes but I have only once paid for the privilege of using an airline’s Wi-Fi service and I am not alone. According to GoGo, one of the providers of such a service, less than 10% of passengers use Wi-Fi on airplanes. Furthermore, as in my case, being able to expense the service does not improve the adoption or penetration rate. I believe several factors affect the usage of Wi-Fi on planes but the number one factor is price.
Providing Wi-Fi in the air is an incredible technological accomplishment when one considers that the user is traveling 30,000 feet in the air at 500 miles per hour. The cost becomes quite relative when considering the technology required. Regardless of the methodology used, the price is considerably higher than the cost of a similar Wi-Fi service provided in terrestrial based businesses or our homes. The lowest cost provider is GoGo at 20 cents per megabyte with cost topping out at $5 per megabyte for other providers. Compared to a typical data plan of $10 per gigabyte, these services range from $200 to a whopping $5000 per gigabyte. The airlines certainly cannot afford to give this service away.
Of course, the price of Wi-Fi in the air will continue to drop as the network infrastructures mature and the cost of maintenance and expansion drops. Furthermore, new technologies are being adopted to reduce the cost of implementation and prices will be influenced downward as a result. Other factors flyers note for avoiding the use of inflight connectivity will be more difficult to overcome but I believe they tend to be more generational. I used to view flying as a time for reading and getting some time to focus on work without the pressure of having to respond immediately to emails or other requests from the office. However, the newest entrants into the workforce enthusiastically embrace continuous connectivity and accessibility.
Airlines have the right idea. Now they just need to more closely align their cost and pricing to that of the typical wireless or cable data plan. That is, as I sit here in my kitchen writing this blog using Wi-Fi, the airlines need to deliver a similar service at a similar price point while cruising across the planet at 500 miles per hour. Now that’s crazy!