In-flight Wi-Fi provider Gogo has a new service that lets passengers send text messages and make phone calls — yes, phone calls — while in the air.
The Itasca-based company said it expects U.S. commercial airlines to offer the text messaging product while omitting the phone call functionality, a feature geared more toward international carriers and Gogo’s business aviation customers. In the latter segment, which includes private aircraft and charter jets, “voice calling is an absolute essential,” said Brad Jaehn, Gogo’s vice president of product.
Jaehn acknowledged that “at this time in the U.S., there’s a pretty strong sentiment against voice calling on airlines.”
Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration changed its gadget policy to allow electronic devices to be used during all phases of flight, including takeoffs and landings. Cell phone calls, however, are still banned, and Gogo blocks the ability to make calls via VoIP applications such as Skype.
International airlines that fly to and from the U.S. and want to offer voice calling will be handled on a case-by-case basis, Jaehn said.
To use Gogo’s Text & Talk service, passengers have to first download an app, which is available for both Apple iOS and Android devices. The technology uses the company’s onboard WiFi system, saving carriers the need to install cellular stations or additional equipment on their aircraft.
In addition, Jaehn said Gogo has built noise-canceling technology into the app to muffle engine and other ambient noise.
“Since we have such a strong penetration in the business aviation market and…the expectations (for call quality) are even higher than what you find in the commercial aviation space, we put a lot investment into noise-cancellation technology,” he said.
Text & Talk is expected to be available early next year. Jaehn said that pricing is yet to be determined but that passengers will be able to pay just for text messaging and not general broadband connectivity to surf the Web.
Offering text messaging as a standalone product helps Gogo reach new customers beyond the ‘business traveler and productivity seeker’ that is the company’s current core market.
Leisure travelers might want to text friends from the air to say their flight is delayed and they need a later pick-up from the airport, for example.
“Texting is a very complementary product,” Jaehn said.
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