With the FAA recently loosening restrictions on the use of smartphones and tablet computers during takeoff, last year’s news that in-flight Internet speeds are expected to get a boost from something called satellite airwaves should pique the interest of the traveling set. So what are satellite waves, and how do they speed up mobile bandwidth? Let’s take a closer look.


In-Flight Internet Access No Longer Tethered to the Earth

In the past, Internet access on airplanes used a variety of terrestrial antennas for connections. Generally, this limited bandwidth prevented travelers from enjoying a wide variety of rich media content on their mobile devices. Satellite airwaves offer Internet speeds that rival a fast cable or DSL connection, but these airwaves weren’t normally available for use by Internet providers. Enter the FCC.

In early November 2013, the satellite communications service Globalstar earned preliminary regulatory approval from the FCC to allocate unused satellite airwaves for use by Internet providers offering Internet service to airlines as well as other companies providing mobile Internet access. Expect in-flight Internet speeds to improve when final approval is awarded.

Other Mobile Internet Providers Benefit From Satellite Waves

The promise of satellite waves being used to improve Internet bandwidth isn’t limited to airline travel. Globalstar said in its presentation to the FCC that it expects the overall US WiFi capacity to improve by one-third with the use of satellite waves. In fact, Amazon.com has used Globalstar’s service in a limited capacity for private testing purposes.

In 2012, Dish Network also earned FCC approval for the use of satellite waves for Internet access for smartphones. As mobile devices become the primary means for Internet access for many users, expect the FCC to continue to allow more use of satellite waves to improve both bandwidth and the availability of high-speed Internet access, especially in rural regions. Airline travelers also stand to benefit from the ability to enjoy rich media content while on long flights.

Paul Williams
Paul Williams

Paul Williams brings a wide range of experiences to his writing. He worked extensively in technology, as a software engineer, technical writer, and now a technology writer. Known as the leader of one of the top American Spacerock bands, his forward-looking music continues to be heard all over the world.