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Gogo on Friday announced that airline passengers will soon be able to make phone calls and send/receive text messages while aloft. U.S. flyers, however, will probably be left out of the party.
Gogo already provides inflight Wi-Fi service that allows smartphones, tablets and laptops to connect to the Internet. Gogo is present on several airlines in the U.S. and many more abroad. Flyers can pay daily or monthly fees in order to access the Web when in the air. The announcement expands this service to include voice calls and messaging, which Gogo says are two highly-requested features.
In order to make the service work, Android and iOS smartphone owners will need to use a specially-designed application to make calls and send messages. The calls/messages will not be sent over traditional cellular networks. Instead, they'll run through the on-board Wi-Fi. Despite using the Wi-Fi network, Gogo said passengers will still be able to make calls and send/receive messages with their own phone number. It didn't provide details or specifics on how this technology will work.
If you're a regular flyer in the U.S., don't expect to see Gogo's voice calls offered on domestic airlines any time soon. Ash El-Difrawi, Gogo's chief marketing officer, said the company expects most people to use the service for text messaging only. "While we see this as more of a text messaging product for commercial airlines in the United States, the phone functionality is something that some international air carriers and our business aviation customers are asking for," said El-DiFrawi The company plans to launch both the voice and messaging service on business flights with carriers in other countries beginning next year.
The Federal Aviation Administration recently relaxed the guidelines for use of electronics while in flight. This means passengers can use smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and other devices from gate-to-gate, and won't be required to shut the devices off during take-off and landing. This doesn't apply to making voice calls, though. "Cell phones should be in airplane mode or with cellular service disabled (i.e., no signal bars displayed) and cannot be used for voice communications based on FCC regulations that prohibit any airborne calls using cell phones," said the FAA.
Gogo's use of Wi-Fi instead of cellular networks for making phone calls probably won't have an impact on its availability in the U.S. Many passengers object to the idea of their seat mates making phone calls when in the air. Further, U.S. air carriers don't appear to be keen on the idea of in-flight voice. For example, most airlines already prevent passengers from using Skype while in the air, which technically could provide voice service.
Gogo did not say when the texting service will reach U.S airlines. It also didn't say how much the service might cost. In fact, it is leaving pricing up to the airlines. Gogo's in-flight Wi-Fi is already rather pricey. Asking passengers for even more money to send messages from the air may not appeal to the majority of travelers.