VAF Forums

VAF Forums (
-   APRS Tracking (
-   -   Airborne broadband internet access, experiences? (

dljosephson 01-12-2017 05:59 PM

Airborne broadband internet access, experiences?
This isn't APRS, but I figured this was the best group of VAF members to ask. We all know that traditional cell phones (800-870 MHz) can't be used in flight due to FCC prohibition (47CFR22.295). However, WCS, AWS and PCS phones are licensed under different rule parts and don't have the airborne use restriction that's in Part 22. Everyone I know who flies carries their cell phone with them, and nearly all of them switch automatically between 850 and one of the higher (or sometimes lower) bands depending on coverage. Many carriers provide data service only on the non-850 MHz bands.

Wireless carriers use various methods to prevent airborne use -- often you get four bars of signal strength but are not able to complete a call. I'm looking for experience reports... has anyone here run actual internet throughput tests, ping and latency etc. while airborne? What carrier, where, what antenna... you get the picture. Trying to figure out what's practical. I get quite variable service on Verizon in central California; sometimes OK sometimes nothing, with it seeming to work better at lower altitudes and slower speeds (no surprise.) Anyone else?

flightlogic 01-12-2017 07:22 PM

not cable
I am pretty sure internet in the sky, with any speed and throughput is either going to come from Air Cell.... with dedicated transmitters and antennas pointed up.... or from satellites. The ground cell network just doesn't cut it.
Back when analog was common, I used the phone reliably all over the west at up to 15K ft. Digital is another story. Even the very very high end sat systems don't have the bandwidth we are used to on cable. One of my customers expected NFL and freeze frame/instant playback on his G-5 with a high dollar, steerable antenna system. He was disappointed.
Iridium works well for low cost emails and texting. Not very fast though.
Flightcell makes a nice aircraft receiver that does terrestrial cell and satellite. It switches to which ever is cheaper and works... all hands off.

rv7charlie 01-12-2017 08:40 PM

Pretty sure that the carriers lock phones out 'at altitude'. If you think about it, by the time you're a couple of thousand feet up, your phone will be hitting dozens, or even hundreds of towers at the same time. Not a good way to maintain access for all their customers. Even if current phones don't meet the old legal definition of 'cell phone', the cellular nature of the network is still there.


greghughespdx 01-12-2017 10:54 PM

Cellular/similar services generally have limits on distance from towers in order to ensure service coverage is not impacted and that it's provided correctly. Round-trip times can be calculated and used to deny service where a device/phone is too far from a tower (whether laterally or vertically), even if it technically has line of sight to the tower and the signal can reach.

I use my phone in the air in my personal airplane and it often works (although tends to be spotty). But at higher altitudes, the service tends to go bye-bye. My hypothetical experience would be Verizon, ATT and Sprint. Generally speaking, those are listed in descending service quality/reliability order from my hypothetical cross country flights.

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 04:43 AM.