Broadband on a Plane

Replacing the role recently held by snakes, broadband access is slowly slithering its way toward a plane near you.

For years I've been frustrated when flying, primarily because airplanes are not intended for people anywhere close to 76 inches tall to ride in comfort. On a flight with Northwest Airlines yesterday the woman sitting next to me commented on how my knees were pressing snugly against the seat back in front of me.

I guess since it has been proven that height correlates to lifetime income earned and that 90% of CEOs are above average height ("Short Guys Finish Last" The world's most enduring form of discrimination. The Economist, December 23, 1995) that it's an evil game to force me into earning enough to afford flying first class everywhere I go. I digress.

In recent years I've realized that my frustration with flying comes equally from my lack of productivity as it does from physical discomfort, these days maybe even more. With long lists of to-do's in my email inbox and an entire email folder flagged containing things I need to read (much of it being online), the day of settling down with a good book on a long flight just isn't getting it done anymore.

Now with the airlines nickeling you for every little thing the least they could do is offer in-flight broadband access that puts cash in their pocket each time you agree to let them rocket you through the sky. In an article published this morning by eMarketer regarding in-flight broadband they cite a source that is confident that this market is about to explode, with projected annual revenue in the billions within a few years.

While flying yesterday I thought that if I could just text message from my cell phone that my productivity would be increased tenfold. I can text-to-email from my Palm Treo and my team in the office knows my email-to-text message address so I would instantly be in touch with home base throughout my travels.

My friend Erik who flies more than just about anyone I know is concerned that full broadband access will enable everyone-and-their-brother to get on their computer-enabled voice-over-IP  (VOIP) phone and begin loud obnoxious conversations that you'll have to listen to. Sort of like what happens now right when the plane's wheels touch down on each flight and the cell phones come out... "hi honey, yes we just landed, no, the plane landed, yes we took off, I'm at the airport, no I don't have my bags yet, yeah it'll probably take them forever, they always lose my bag, no meet me outside, no don't park, yes I'm still on the plane, etc, etc, etc."

So, if they do take the full broadband route which will be incredible for many reasons including streaming movies and music as well as normal communication and nearly in-office productivity they had better be smart and figure out a way to filter and prevent VOIP at the network level and create a number of rules that the flight-attendants are ready to enforce regarding distractions to other passengers.