Bustamante Discusses How AquaLab's New Research Aims to Improve In-flight Wi-Fi In Chicago Tribune Article

He also Explores how generating crowd source data by increasing the collection of data about connectivity, could result in a multitude of technological possibilities.


Prof. Fabián Bustamante has been quoted in a recent article discussing how launching AquaLab's new application, Wi-Fly, could improve airline passengers in-flight Wi-Fi experience. He also discusses how generating crowd source data by increasing the collection of data about connectivity, could result in research that improves communications services that support the air-traffic management systems, as well as other technological possibilities.

Excerted from an Monday, February 29, 2016 article published by The Chicago Tribune, titled, "Could crowdsourced data turn in-flight Wi-Fi around?"

A team of Chicago-area researchers wants to turn in-flight Wi-Fi into something that you’d gladly fork over $40 for.

The team, led by Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering professor Fabián Bustamante, has launched Wi-Fly, an application to figure out where in-flight Wi-Fi is struggling. 

Wi-Fly measures connectivity during a flight. Users go to the app, enter their flight number, then speed test results appear as the plane travels.

Bustamante, before deciding to pursue the project, had a few particularly egregious in-flight Wi-Fi experiences, feeling as if “I was paying for Fiber — and I was getting dial-up."

Bustamante said the collection of data about connectivity could result in research that could improve communications services that support the air-traffic management systems.

“Nobody knows really what the performance is like. Everybody complains, we know it’s bad, but we don’t know how bad it is,” he said.  

Bustamante said the group plans to collect research for at least the next few years, with preliminary results released in six months.

The site launched in the wake of a lawsuit filed against Chicago-based in-flight Wi-Fi provider Gogo by American Airlines earlier this month, saying the airline could receive faster Internet service from competitor ViaSat. American asked the court to confirm a provision in its contract with Gogo allowing the airline to renegotiate or terminate its deal if it could find better service, and dropped the suit after Gogo said it would submit a bid to install its faster 2Ku satellite service on American’s fleet.

The lawsuit ignited a new round of discussion about in-flight Wi-Fi, which varies wildly in price and is notoriously slow. 

Tim Farrar, principal at TMF Associates, a mobile data-service consulting firm, said it can be tricky to break down the quality of Wi-Fi by provider or airline, since so much of performance has to do with time of day or location. That might make it tough for consumers to make decisions about which airline and provider they’d go with — even if more data was available.

“Late in the evening, when lots of people are asleep, you’ll get better service than if you’re flying in the middle of the day when people are flying around and want to get work done,” he said.

As technology improves, Farrar said, airlines will make have to make decisions regarding quality and pricing for consumers.

“Clearly the capabilities are going to improve; everyone is working on better technology, new satellites are going to be launched, people are upgrading their aircrafts,” Farrar said.

As airlines gain more control over service, they will continue to experiment with different models. Right now, for example, Southwest Airlines provides free Internet to A-List Preferred Members, while JetBlue makes it free for all passengers. On Alaska Airlines, which uses Gogo, customers can buy an all-day pass for $16.

“You’re prepared to be a lot more forgiving of a free service than you are of something you’re paying $40 for,” Farrar said.

McCormick News Article