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[January 11, 2014]
Sky's not the limit [Daily Tribune (Bahrain)]
(Daily Tribune (Bahrain) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Even over the moonscape Nevada desert, even in a 1950s seaplane, the Internet is there. Flying from Las Vegas to Lake Mead on the amphibious Albatross One, in-flight services firm Global Eagle Entertainment is demonstrating its ability to deliver connectivity under unusual conditions. The company showed off its satellite Internet system to a handful of journalists attending the Consumer Electronics Show, just weeks after US regulators allowed "gate to gate" online service, ending a ban on in-flight connectivity below 10,000 feet (3,050 meters). By using a satellite connection, Global Eagle says it has a more reliable system than air-to-ground providers, especially at low altitudes. "The satellite is already there and it's possible to have more bandwidth when needed," said Simon McLellan, chief engineer for Row44, the technology division of California-based Global Eagle. Using a satellite "allows you to expand the capacity when the demand grows," while air-to-ground Internet "is focused on land masses and very populated areas… the infrastructure is not always there." One of Global Eagle's rivals, Gogo, which serves many US carriers, announced last year it would modify its ground-based connections to a hybrid system that uses both satellites and land transmission. A transceiver, a modem, a server and a wireless access point were fitted onto the Albatross, a search-and-rescue aircraft designed for the US Navy and later used for NASA astronaut training that took journalists over spectacular mountain and desert landscapes. So it is possible to use a smartphone or tablet instead of checking out the view. Showing the Internet capability in a vintage-era seaplane is "unusual but it serves its goal," said McLellan. Global Eagle uses three satellites over the United States and eight to 10 worldwide, mainly in the northern hemisphere. It costs between $300,000 and $500,000 to equip each plane, according to McLellan. The carriers can recoup the costs through fees, like Southwest, or offer it for free to highlight premium service, like Norwegian Air.
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