Better Internet and Application Speeds on Airlines is Essential.
Over the past 12 months, I have logged about 100,000k miles on the plane. It sounds brutal, but to be quite frank, having Internet access on the plane has been a god-send. After a 6 hour flight, I recently did not want to get off the plane. I couldn’t believe I was wishing the flight was a lil’ longer, so I could finish studying, working, facebooking, watching videos, etc.–just doing what I would normally be doing on my couch at home. It made no difference to me. That is the power of having Internet on the plane. It not only makes time fly by, but it makes a 6 hour flight seem like a couch surfing session at home.
As the world “flattens” and global traversal becomes more widespread for fun, work, and school, the next big efficiency enabler is Internet technology on the planes. Many could do exactly what they would be doing on the Internet in their office, home, or library and the traveling time that would have been lost in the past, would be regained. Ironically, without many distractions on the plane, I found that my efficiency actually improved.
However, there is a lot of room for technological improvement before planes become moving offices. Planes need to improve two main necessities: bigger bandwidth pipes for at least 200 passengers and better latency as they fly across different geographic regions.
On a recent trip to L.A. from D.C., I had an opportunity to conduct some speedtests from the air on Virgin America Airline’s Gogo Internet service with and without Cloud Acceleration. The results were seemingly better with Cloud Acceleration on. I’ve attached the results of the comprehensive test below. Here’s a summary of my methodology, results and experience.
1) The night before I ran some speedtests from my house, using Cloudharmony’s cloud speed test. (Cloudharmony has some awesome tests–you can run upload, download, and DNS tests to a global list of cloud providers.) I ran speed tests without acceleration on (cold), with acceleration on for the “1st pass” (warm), and with acceleration on for the “2nd pass” (hot). The results are posted below.
2) On the plane, I ran two tests: cold and hot. I did not want to empty my warm datastore, so I just ran a hot test.
3) Results: The raw results indicate that the cold tests failed consistently. In fact, I did not complete the test because I saw that the test was failing. The hot results were great. While most roundtrip times and download were longer than my warm test the night before at home, they were comparatively better than the cold tests.
The results confirm my belief that Cloud Acceleration is going to deliver much better performance for airlines! Although this was just a first experiment and the results are mixed, I experienced improved performance. The expectation wasn’t to see anything extraordinary because more cloud acceleration infrastructure needs to be built out across the country.
What still needs to be done?
As I alluded to earlier, airlines need to do 2 things to improve Internet performance: have bigger bandwidth pipes for at least 200 passengers and better latency as they fly across different geographic regions. Here are some thoughts/ideas on how that can be accomplished:
1) It’s likely that the Internet from the plane is received from satellites.
2) Increasing the bandwidth from the plane to satellite should not be a problem. The airlines just needs to purchase higher aggregate bandwidth speeds for their users. According to Wikipedia, “a shared download carrier may have a bit rate of 1 to 40 Mbit/s and be shared by up to 100 to 4,000 end users.” For every 50 passengers, I would estimate that airlines would need at least 20Mbs. I think most people like to stream youtube, hulu, or movies while they’re on the plane, so there could be significant bandwidth usage at any one point in time.
3) Latency is a much bigger theoretical problem when using satellites. According to Wikipedia, “factoring in other normal delays from network sources gives a typical one-way connection latency of 500–700 ms from the user to the ISP, or about 1,000–1,400 ms latency for the total round-trip time (RTT) back to the user. This is much more than most dial-up users experience at typically 150–200 ms total latency.“
Cloud Acceleration has the potential to help both the bandwidth and latency problems. With cloud acceleration, there will be less bandwidth usage as less data will be transmitted up and down the satellite connection. Most laptop users access the same Internet sites and online applications, so most of the data will be stored locally and not need to be requested from the satellite. More needs to be done to figure out how to best save bandwidth for multimedia access since that could be a large percentage of the usage on airplanes.
In terms of latency, since less data needs to be transmitted, the latency will improve for those bits of data–they will not need to take the round-trip. For Internet access and web application users, this could result in a significant performance increase, as most of those applications constantly send duplicative data.
Overall, more technical work still needs to be researched and completed for acceleration on airplanes. However, from a cursory examination of it, I think Cloud Acceleration is on its way to delivering exceptional Internet and application performance for consumers on planes, as they continue to traverse the globe.