Remember when a long flight meant time with a good book, music and a movie? Now it just means you can continue to work 36,000 feet up. Continental is joining the growing number of airlines offering in-flight Wi-Fi, signing a letter of intent with in-flight entertainment company LiveTV to offer the service via Ka-band satellite spectrum on planes starting next year.

Continental will offer the service on more than 200 domestic aircraft already equipped with DirecTV. In addition to live TV, the airline will be able to offer higher transmission speeds for Web browsing, for sending and receiving e-mails, and for downloading files.

Gogo, a service of Aircell Networks, is another in-flight communications company. According to its website, Gogo "turns a commercial airplane into a Wi-Fi hotspot with true in-flight Internet access. Passengers with Wi-Fi enabled devices can surf the Web, check e-mail, instant message, access a corporate VPN and more."

Gogo’s in-flight Wi-Fi technology has been deployed on nearly 2,000 aircraft, including all AirTran Airways and Virgin America flights; and select Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and US Airways flights. Aircell estimates that more than 200 million passengers will board Gogo-equipped flights this year.

Wi-Fi-In-The-Sky Technology

According to an email from Aircell Networks, that company has erected a network of cellular towers throughout the continental United States for its air-to-ground (ATG) technology, which transmits broadband Internet connectivity to Gogo-equipped aircraft. Three small antennas installed on the outside of the aircraft and two ATG antennas installed under the aircraft receive the signal and convey it to the Gogo system inside the plane. Gogo then transmits a Wi-Fi signal inside the cabin for passenger use.?

Aircell touts its ATG capabilities by claiming to be the only company offering a combination of ATG and satellite technology. Aircell’s technology roadmap includes a next-generation version of ATG that will improve per-aircraft capacity by approximately four times. In addition, Aircell is implementing Ka-band satellite technology to supplement what is available through ATG and current-generation satellite technology.?

-Linda Hardesty

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