More good news for the small businessmen and women who can't stand to be disconnected from the Web while in flight: You are now free to move around the Internet. On some Delta shuttle flights on the East Coast, that is.
On Dec. 16, the airline will begin offering Wi-Fi service, for $9.95, on half its flights between Boston's Logan, New York's LaGuardia and Washington's Reagan National airports.
Delta is partnering with communications provider Aircell, which has already seen its Gogo Inflight Internet service installed on planes operated by Virgin America, Alaskan Air and American Airlines. Aircell's Gogo service turns an aircraft into a flying Wi-Fi hot spot by using antennae on the fuselage of the aircraft to connect to cell towers on the ground. Aircell says it expects to have the other half of the shuttle fleet wired by next week.
Many business travelers in the Northeast Corridor currently prefer taking Amtrak trains because of the ability to access e-mail and the Internet (not to mention making regular phone calls) from Wi-Fi ground connections. Delta is hoping to lure more suits to the sky with this service. The airline says it plans to have its entire fleet of planes covered by May 31, 2009, as well as those of its merger partner, Northwest Airlines. For flights longer than 3 hours, the price of Internet access jumps to $12.95.
While business travelers can use any Wi-Fi-enabled device, such as a mobile phone or laptop, Internet phone calls are not allowed, due to Federal Aviation Administration restrictions. SMS text messaging and instant messaging, however, will be allowed.
For the SMB (small to medium-size business) owner who must decide between holding a virtual meeting to save on travel expenses and flying out to meet with clients or partners, the ability to access the Web while in flight may not be enough of an incentive. Cutting travel time from Washington to New York from 5 hours to an hour an a half, however, while still having the ability to work online may be a sufficient temptation.
"2008 was a year of groundbreaking milestones for Aircell culminating in the successful launches of Gogo Inflight Internet service on American Airlines and Virgin America," Aircell President and CEO Jack Blumenstein said in a statement. "2009 promises to be Aircell's most extraordinary year yet. Business travelers are hooked on Gogo. Our growing customer response is demonstrating that $9.95 to $12.95 is a small price to pay for the ability to stay connected and take control over how you spend your time in-flight."
SMBs face an ever-expanding array of options for connecting to the Internet outside of the office. Last week, Novatel announced plans to release its MiFi device, which promises to put 3G broadband wireless in your pocket. The MiFi acts as a mobile router that connects to a number of mobile broadband networks, like Sprint and Verizon EVDO networks or the UMTS/HSDPA networks operated by AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile.
A recent study by ABI Research found SMBs are adopting mobile broadband more quickly than large enterprises. The study says that since a smaller business can easily buy mobile broadband devices and services from commercial retail outlets, they are implementing the technology faster than their larger counterparts.