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Turbulence Ahead?

Connexion's picture sounds awfully rosy, but there are some caveats. So you may want to return to your seats and buckle in, just in case.

Ku-band limitations
Ku-band satellites are regionally focused, which means that too many planes in a single area can oversubscribe the bandwidth that's available on popular routes. If Connexion becomes successful, they may need to lease many more transponders, or may find a shortage of transponders in the areas they need. This can be solved with additional satellite launches - which Boeing wouldn't pay for directly.

Security
Connexion offers no security overlay, such as 802.1X or a private VPN. Customers must supply their own security, and it's recommended - as with any public, open Wi-Fi network - that either all open application streams, such as POP, SMTP, and IMAP for email, be secured with encryption or that you use a VPN.

VPN service can be "rented" from companies like HotSpotVPN.com for an unlimited amount of data at a fixed monthly rate. All those interviewed found their VPN connections worked flawlessly, as did I in my test flight.

As far as security, Connexion doesn't disclose precisely how it deals with privacy and security combined. But Schmid reported that he could not see any shares or other networks when he attempted to browse his plane's WLAN. So it looks like the service is likely using VLANs to keep user traffic separated - a common technique used in some public hotspots.

Deal demurred when asked whether logs containing information about connections or users were stored, but referred customers to Connexion's privacy policy which he says takes a very conservative policy in favor of users.

Keeping it Clean
Pornography isn't filtered out by default. "We had a working group of airlines as we were innovating the network, and one of the most spirited issues happened over what happens in an airplane cabin in the area of content," said Deal. Connexion offers a filtering service for airlines that want it, but "it created more of a nuisance than a benefit."

Deal said that airlines already cope with the problem of inappropriate material being displayed on laptops and portable video players and said "the advent of bringing the Internet in the cabin has not created the issue of people behaving badly."

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