The Federal Communications Commission has voted to look into a proposal that would make additional spectrum available for inflight broadband. Currently, only around 4MHz of spectrum is available for the wireless service that works by transmitting signals from towers on the ground to planes in the air. The proposal seeks to add 500MHz of spectrum and switch to satellites rather than ground-based transmissions.
If approved, the proposal would make onboard Wi-Fi cheaper, faster, and more widely available. The FCC estimates that the service could provide speeds of up to 300Gbps, though, given the number of passengers, not everyone would see that speed. Users would be able to stream movies, providing an alternative to the selected inflight entertainment, as well as browse the web and respond to emails.
Qualcomm Inc. is pushing the proposal and has been lobbying for it since 2011. Naturally, Qualcomm isn’t operating solely out a desire to improve the flying experience; the company is seeking to become the primary equipment manufacturer for the inflight Wi-Fi networks. GoGo, the present main provider of inflight Internet, is one of several companies that would likely bid on the new spectrum and purchase hardware from Qualcomm.
Not long ago, the FCC also asked the Federal Aviation Administration to allow the use of electronic devices during takeoff and landing. Chairman Julius Genachowski said that there was no evidence that smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices interfered with flight systems. The FAA is still reviewing the issue, but, combined with this new proposal, this could be the beginning of a big change in mobile device usage and connectivity for airline passengers.