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plane flying

In-flight Wi-Fi is one of the best aspects of modern air travel — even though it’s far slower than what you’d get from a 4G LTE smartphone or a  typical home broadband connection. But that could all change in a few years.

Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission approved a plan to open up wireless spectrum to speed up in-flight Wi-Fi, the New York Times reports. While it’s only the first of many steps that need to be taken, it shows that the FCC is aware of the growing importance of getting online during flights. (At this point, it’s practically a requirement for me during any cross-country flight.)

Current in-flight Wi-Fi technology gets speeds of around 3 megabits per second per plane, which is about ten-times slower than your typical home broadband connection (and slower than speeds than you see on LTE 4G). That’d be a decent speed for a single person’s Internet connection, but right now it’s shared across everyone who signs up for in-flight Internet. That’s one of the reasons Gogo ended up raising its prices — by limiting Internet service to people willing to pay a higher price, it can actually improve the experience of its service.

By using the new wireless spectrum, a newer format of in-flight technology could see speeds of up to 300 gigabits per second, or 30 times faster than your typical home Internet connection. The new technology would be able to take advantage of a wider array of wireless spectrum, as well as maintain better contact with the plane, FCC officials said. The agency plans to let ISPs purchase a license to share spectrum with satellite communications companies, which will be used to implement a cell-tower based system for in-flight Wi-Fi.

The big problem? It’ll likely be years until we see the faster in-flight Internet technology implemented. But once it does arrive, anyone on a plane will be able to stream hi-def movies, play online games, and access large files over cloud storage. And hopefully, the new technology will also drive down the price of in-flight Internet service. (Right now GoGo charges around $25 for the privilege to use its service for the entire day.)

Airplane photo via Shutterstock

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