AT&T Working On In-Flight LTE

WiFi is still making its way up 35,000 feet, but AT&T already has plans to embed its LTE network in airplanes for air-to-ground 4G in-flight connectivity.

The carrier said on Monday afternoon that it would launch an LTE-based in-flight connectivity system for airlines and passengers in commercial, business, and general aviation in late 2015. For passengers, the broadband service will include WiFi and entertainment. For the airline, it will bring improved cockpit communications, maintenance operations, and crew services, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) says.

AT&T doesn’t have aviation partners as of yet, but it's building the LTE network to work in the US on spectrum it already owns. It will announce availability and pricing information closer to the launch.

Why this matters
In-flight connectivity has become a priority for business and leisure travelers alike. While a lot of airline fleets have WiFi, the service often leaves much to be desired. AT&T says it will work with aerospace company Honeywell to improve the experience.

This move will pit AT&T against companies like GoGo that are well-entrenched in the airline industry with carrier partners, but it's a natural extension for the operator, which is also making a big push into connected cars. (See Volvo: AT&T HSPA+ Can Drive My Car and AT&T Tests Drivers' Desire to Pay for LTE.)

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— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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MikeP688 4/29/2014 | 8:43:01 AM
Re: Taking off It was a matter of time before AT&T got into it.  But, GOGO won't go quickly.   Here is the view from "GOGO"...it should be a very interesting engagement indeed: http://recode.net/2014/04/28/gogo-ceo-on-atts-plan-to-invade-his-airspace/
Liz Greenberg 4/28/2014 | 11:23:00 PM
Re: Taking off It would be great advertising for AT&T to add it to their current WiFi spots.  Maybe it becomes a customer retention tool or something that they just tack on to business contracts.  You are right though that WiFi will be preferred since it doesn't count against data plans.  AT&T could be creative and differentiate the airplane LTE usage from the rest with some other sort of plan that is cheaper and faster than Gogo.  This is going to be interesting no matter what.
Liz Greenberg 4/28/2014 | 11:19:52 PM
Re: AT&T video? Sarah,  I think if the airlines can make a buck off of the deal they will offer it.  Maybe they will enable 2 providers?  You are right that most have deals already but who knows if they are exclusive.  All I know is that for the current cost, it isn't worth it unless you have critical email. 
Sarah Thomas 4/28/2014 | 5:56:40 PM
Re: Taking off Well, AT&T has yet to say how it is billing. I imagine it will find a way to lump it into plans for its customers and maybe charge separately for WiFi non-customers. I imagine WiFi is preferred by most, since it's not counting against the data cap, but the performance depends on the system deployed and how strong the signals are.
Sarah Thomas 4/28/2014 | 5:52:26 PM
AT&T video? My in-flight WiFi experiences have always been sub-par. Worthless for video, but okay for emails. AT&T says it will provide entertainment services. I wonder if that means it will be optimizing video and other streaming services, so they are worthwhile -- sort of how Southwest offers free TV through Dish. 

I also wonder how the airlines will react to this, since a lot already have deals in place. I'm sure they're eager for some competition in the air.
Mitch Wagner 4/28/2014 | 5:51:51 PM
Taking off Seems like this would be more attractive than WiFi for passengers because it's not a separate charge, and also because it's more convenient -- although in-flight WiFi 2.0 could compete with this technology. Are there other advantages to in-flight LTE over WiFi?
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