AT&T’s next big move: In-flight WiFi based on its high-speed LTE service

AT&T In-Flight 4G LTE

AT&T wants to make sure you never go without data connectivity on a flight ever again. The carrier announced on Monday that is “plans to launch a high-speed 4G LTE-based in-flight connectivity service” for commercial airlines that will arrive as soon as late 2015. AT&T says that the network will provide much more reliable service than other in-flight Wi-Fi services that are regularly marred by inconsistent connectivity and slow data speeds. 

It seems that AT&T’s plan involves hooking up airplanes with LTE connectivity so they don’t have to rely on satellite connections that have comparatively limited bandwidth. From there, the data transmitted through the air-to-ground LTE network will be sent through an in-flight Wi-Fi link that will connect to passengers’ devices.

Having Internet connectivity on flights is even more important to passengers now that the Federal Aviation Administration has decided to let people keep their smartphones, tablets and laptops switched on during both takeoffs and landings. It will be interesting to see if other major carriers such as Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint follow AT&T’s lead and try to offer in-flight LTE options of their own.

AT&T’s press release follows below.

MOBILIZING THE SKY: AT&T BUILDING 4G LTE IN-FLIGHT CONNECTIVITY SERVICE

 4G LTE-based air-to-ground service to transform connectivity for the U.S. aviation industry and its passengers


DALLAS, TEXAS, April 28, 2014
AT&T* today announced plans to launch a high-speed 4G LTE-based in-flight connectivity service for airlines and passengers in commercial, business and general aviation. The service, planned to be available as soon as late 2015, will be capable of providing in-flight broadband for customers including fast, reliable Wi-Fi and onboard entertainment. Following launch, aviation customers can also expect improved connectivity solutions such as cockpit communications, maintenance operations and crew services.

To deliver this new service, AT&T plans to build an innovative air-to-ground network in the continental United States, based on global 4G LTE standards, to provide fast speeds and efficient utilization of spectrum already owned by AT&T. As the architect and operator of the nation’s most reliable 4G LTE network**, AT&T has the expertise, spectrum and financial strength to transform airborne connectivity.

“Everyone wants access to high-speed, reliable mobile Internet wherever they are, including at 35,000 feet,” said John Stankey, Chief Strategy Officer at AT&T. “We are building on AT&T’s significant strengths to develop in-flight connectivity technology unlike any other that exists today, based on 4G LTE standards. We believe this will enable airlines and passengers to benefit from reliable high speeds and a better experience. We expect this service to transform connectivity in the aviation industry – we are truly mobilizing the sky.”

Honeywell, an aerospace industry leader, recently issued its Wireless Connectivity Survey indicating that in-flight Wi-Fi currently causes frustrations for nearly nine in 10 users worldwide, most often due to inconsistent or slow connections. AT&T plans to work with Honeywell to provide hardware and service capabilities to deliver the in-flight connectivity solution. Along with Honeywell’s expertise, AT&T’s technical strength and scale in building networks and managing their evolutions provide a unique opportunity to change the way passengers and airlines connect to the mobile Internet. With AT&T’s planned new network, passengers would gain the reliability they have long hoped for in the sky – for browsing the Internet, checking email, keeping in touch with friends and family through social networking and messaging services, and increasing business productivity. AT&T’s in-flight connectivity also offers the potential for improved communications between the plane and the ground through transmission of real-time aircraft data for optimizing, monitoring and evolving airlines’ operations.

In-flight connectivity is a natural fit for AT&T, which over the past six years (2008 to 2013) has invested more than $140 billion into its wireless and wireline networks, when you combine capital investment and acquisitions of spectrum and wireless operations, and already operates the nation’s most reliable 4G LTE network. AT&T has more than 116 million wireless subscribers, more than 16.5 million total broadband subscribers and serves many of the world’s largest corporations, including all of the Fortune 1000.  AT&T is a leader in connected devices and continues to win awards for its wireless and wireline services, while also continuing to innovate with its recent launches of its Connected Car platform and Drive Studio, and introduction of AT&T U-verse® with GigaPowerSM in select U.S. cities.

AT&T sees an opportunity to deliver an innovative and high-performing in-flight connectivity and entertainment service, and will build on existing relationships within the aviation industry to deliver a better customer experience than what is available from others today. AT&T plans for its in-flight connectivity service to support both business aviation and commercial airline customers from day one of the service launch. AT&T will provide information on pricing and availability prior to launch.

AT&T does not expect additional capital expenditures required for this initiative to be material, nor will it have any impact on the company’s previously-announced financial guidance.

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