|WiFi test flight hits speed wobble|
Wednesday, 09 May 2012 13:30
Africa`s first WiFi-enabled plane takes to the skies, with tech-hungry passengers pushing the new service to its limits.
Over 100 tech-savvy passengers got to experience Internet in the sky – a first not only for Africa but for the entire Southern hemisphere – on the inaugural WiFi-enabled flight yesterday. WirelessG, Vodacom and Mango partnered to introduce what has been referred to as “the last technical bastion”.
Following years of negotiations, assessment and planning, G-Connect – Internet service provider WirelessG`s in-flight WiFi – debuted on low-cost carrier Mango`s aircraft. The service allows for full on-board Internet connectivity, including sending and receiving e-mails, Web browsing and the use of all social networks. An air-to-land SMS service is also available, managed through a Web service.
The launch function at Lanseria airport yesterday hosted a group of media representatives and VIP guests, 115 of whom boarded the plane to test G-Connect first-hand. While the service experienced a glitch in that only 30% of the group successfully connected to the Internet, WirelessG CEO Carel van der Merwe says the service is fully operational and up-and-running this morning, with an unexpected number of passengers already having signed up.
Van der Merwe says a post-mortem conducted after yesterday`s test flight revealed that connection problems were due to “budget constraints” in terms of IP addresses. “The system is configured to allocate 128 IPs for passengers. Yesterday, while there were 115 passengers on board, many of them had multiple devices and we saw three times the allowed connections, with hundreds of IP addresses constantly requesting access.
“This was not a technical or hardware problem, but rather a case of tech-hungry individuals with a desire to test the service to its limits.” He says statistics revealed that 18% of the core system`s capacity was actually utilised.
The most successful devices proved to be Apple and Samsung, says Van der Merwe, with BlackBerry devices on the whole proving unsuccessful. He says this is because devices running on version 5 and lower of BlackBerry`s operating system have a problem with processing power and handling Java Script.
“According to our information, 50% of South Africans still have these old devices. As the system goes on and people begin to learn how it works, they will become more compatible with it. We cannot budget for all devices.”
According to Van der Merwe, a 6am flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town this morning saw approximately 30 new G-Connect sign ups, with eight of those actively using the service. While exact details are not yet available, he says the flight – the first after the official G-Connect launch – saw significant levels of uptime.
“It is a good sign that so many first-time users have already logged on and actively used the service. It is a new system and a new environment for people and we aim to make it affordable and accessible to passengers, as well as to educate them as to how in-flight WiFi works.”
Van der Merwe says South Africans are “a lot more tech-hungry” than other nations and, while international trends show that approximately 10% of customers use in-flight WiFi where it is available, he expects the South African figure to be much higher than that.
The service, which uses an 8Mbps connection provided by cellular network Vodacom via a Ku-band satellite, is compatible with most WiFi-enabled devices, including smartphones, tablets and laptops. Vodacom says it has converted its satellite infrastructure to ensure the in-flight WiFi service will keep people connected, “even as they travel at over 800kmph”.
Chris Ross, Vodacom`s head of commercial operations, says the development of in-flight connectivity takes the notion of a mobile to a whole new level. “We know how much customers value being connected; in fact 88% of people surveyed said they`d like to have broadband access when they fly.”
There are currently three G-Connect packages on offer, including one-way access, priced at R50 per single sector flight; a one-day pass for R90 (irrespective of the number of flights completed during a 20-hour period); and a per-minute option, billed through G-Connect`s online account – offering land and air convergence at R1 per minute. All three packages offer unlimited data use during the allotted time.
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