WiFi Why Not?

The Economist magazine tweeted a story this week about the use of GoGo wifi in airplanes.

The main point was that the quality of in-flight wifi service is so bad that only 4% of passengers have been taking GoGo up on the for-pay service.

Although in-flight wireless is apparently better than the on-track service offered on select Amtrak trains, the connectivity is slow enough that the Economist writer suggested folks who find themselves airborne are probably more likely to opt to get done those tablet, laptop and mobile phone tasks for which Internet access isn’t actually needed.

The commentary continued with a suggestion that the connection speed, coupled with airplane regulations that soon might permit use of mobile devices’ own services, would make offerings like GoGo’s obsolete. Current IPO notwithstanding.

I have to rely on the writer’s points about service quality: The only time I really needed wifi service on a plane–to finish up a client report–the service ended up being broken for my leg of the journey. That said, the numbers in the hyperlinks of the article are pretty interesting.

Specifically, the fact that only 4% of passengers are logging in. Not a high number at all, especially considering the quantity of fliers who are young children who maybe could do with a bit of distraction in the air, and business people who really needed to get that report done. For example.

Another industry where wifi use figures are available–beyond transportation–is that of sports entertainment. Specifically, Minnesota’s own Target Field. While the Twins were bottoming out this past season, fans had the opportunity to avail themselves of the wifi access that was built in to the new ballpark. According to this article summarizing how the wifi system was integrated specifically for the park, about 1,000 people log on each game. Although that population size far surpasses the mere handful using airborne wifi while in-flight, it actually amounts to only 2.5% of the [in-stadium] audience.

(While we’re on the topic of the Twins ballpark, and so as not to be a complete downer about Minnesota sports after not being too nice on their abysmal season this year, check out this Wired review of Target Field, with photos to boot.)

I would love to learn more about the online behaviors of people in-flight compared to those in-stadium. How long are they actually online as a percentage of total available usage time period? What types of sites or services are accessed? And, particularly in the case of the stadium goers, what might this mean for baseball fans’ attention to the game?

I also think the musings in the Economist about the future of GoGo should take into account the use of wifi by folks in stadiums. Here on the ground people have 3G and 4G access. And yet, we still apparently have people who want to use the proffered wifi service. Might GoGo remain viable, then, even after those regulations change to permit mass use of fliers’ own phone plans?

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