Nearly Constant Connectivity Almost Here, Right Now

Being connected when traveling is getting easier all the time. As new technology rolls out, travelers worldwide find connecting to Wi-Fi hot spots easier than ever. Pricing is becoming more reasonable too, enabling more to enjoy constant connectivity wherever they may travel. The need is there and technology companies are delivering, as I found out on a recent international trip.

On land, Comcast has a new program for hotels, offering reliable, high-performance bandwidth that can easily scale up to meet increased demand. Prices are starting to come down too, as hotel chains provide complimentary Internet access to members of their loyalty programs. Look for more of the same as travelers list having to pay for Internet access second only to noisy neighbors as the most annoying part of staying at a hotel in a recent survey.

Air travelers have been connecting over the continental United States for years. Now they do it less expensively with day and hourly passes and bundled services from companies like GoGo Internet. Soon, American Airlines and others will add access over the Atlantic Ocean for international travelers. Through May 21, 2013, American had provided free International Internet access as they worked out the bugs. Going forward, American will offer a “duration of the flight” pass over international waters for $19.By rail, Amtrak’s new AmtrakConnect cellular-based Wi-Fi using 4G technologies is already complete on many lines and will be rolled out to all remaining Wi-Fi equipped Amtrak trains by late summer.

Not all that long ago, Cruise travelers resigned to seeing “no service” once they set sail. Today they can connect ship-wide all the time. Now equipped with Wi-Fi options that are costing less and doing more, cruise lines are increasingly adding content of their own with internal networks for cruise travelers. Soon, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas will offer passengers high-speed, satellite-delivered, broadband service thanks to a multiyear, multimillion dollar agreement Royal made with O3b, a global satellite service provider.

Even those who travel by motor vehicle are finding more connectivity as giant networks like AT&T, local cable companies and municipalities make nationwide Wi-Fi hotspots readily available. This availability is combined with smartphones that easily switch between service providers either on their own or via a connection service like Boingo Internet.

In the not so distant past, I would reduce my smart phone to something just shy of brick-status in order to avoid hefty roaming, long distance and other surcharges when traveling internationally. It seems that with each trip abroad though, connecting gets easier, with stronger, more reliable signals. A trip to Italy last month required simply switching on an international data plan that enabled me to travel in Europe as though I had gone on a road trip within driving distance of my North American home.

Travelers who long for constant connectivity? Your ship is about to come in. Oddly, it may arrive at nations other than the United States first, as we see in this interesting video:

Would you want to stay connected at 35,000 feet?

I remember how thrilled I was when wireless became so common place at airports, and although talked about for a few years now, it always surprised me how it hadn’t got onto flights yet. Little did I know that the Internet-on-flights saga has had its twists and turns.

Although never introduced on any American airlines, Internet has been on certain carriers since 2004. The broadband service was initially provided by a Boeing company called Connexion that shut down last year because it didn’t work out to be economically viable — not enough people were making use of broadband Internet in the air.

I suppose things have changed over the last three years and having wireless on aircrafts seems to have come back onto the agenda. From next week, JetBlue Airlines will start offering free email and instant messaging on the aircraft; American Airlines, Virgin America and Alaska Airlines plan to offer wider usage in the following months; and beginning 2008, all Lufthansa long-haul flights will have broadband.

Emirates seems to be leading the pack as it has maintained email and SMS services on its flights since 2004! You don’t even need a laptop, you can do it on a screen behind the seat in front of you. They even have in-seat phones that allow you to call anyone from the sky for US$5 a minute — on average 6,000 calls are made per month, basis which Emirates recently announced that it will be the first airline to allow mobile phone use on board.

Although some awesome material could be gathered from live in-the-sky-blogging, and even though there will be restrictions on connectivity, I don’t see how they would be able to stop people from disturbing others by speaking loudly on the phone or having cybersex through the web-cam. I’m not so sure anymore if I would want this in-flight option, would you?