Why Does My Flight Not Want Me to Buy Wi-Fi?
Nicole Dieker

I haven’t thought it through, but my initial thoughts about the wi-fi question are:

  • The movies (e.g., the good Star Wars ones) are probably physically housed on the plane. That is, the data is available in the plane, so there isn’t much distance for the data to travel and there’s better communications equipment in the plane itself (e.g., physical transmission lines from the plane’s movie server to your seat).
  • One the data has the leave the plane (e.g., you press send on your e-mail program), the data leaves the plane and has to travel to earth. At this point, the distances involved are much greater, there’s more interference from other signals and there’s more competition for the data source (e.g., probably lots of people in lots of planes are trying to hook up to the signal from the ground). Therefore, the data signal available to each person is slower (which is suitable for e-mails, which don’t require much data and don’t require immediate exchange of data (asynchronous)).
  • Movies require a lot of data and you immediately notice any delays or losses in the data (i.e., gaps or freezes in the movie). Therefore, movies which are sent up from earth (as opposed to being stored on the plane itself) are going to look a lot worse, because the amount of data being sent will be lower, the distances are greater and the likely data loss will be higher.

Does this make sense?

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