Rory Cellan-Jones

Surfing over Vegas

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 10 Jan 09, 05:58 GMT

This is my sixth trip to Las Vegas - and I can honestly say that last night was the most fun I've ever had here. And, before you ask, it involved none of the sins with which America's party town is usually associated, though we all got pretty high - at least a few thousand feet.

We had been invited to film aboard an aircraft which was demonstrating an onboard broadband system which is now going to bring the web to airline passengers. That involved a trip out to Henderson Airfield, twenty miles outside Las Vegas, where we climbed onto a quite extraordinary aircraft - a 1952 flying boat.

It belongs to a company called Row 44, which was set up five years ago by John Guidon, a British electrical engineer who emigrated to the US more than twenty years ago, and Gregg Fialcowitz, who has founded a number of software businesses.

We took off at twilight and headed towards Las Vegas - and very quickly we were online, and at a pretty decent speed. We wanted to try a couple of "firsts" - at least they were firsts for us - a live broadcast from a plane, and a video call.

It was always going to be tricky to go live onto BBC World, and although we did manage to contact London, and they saw us for a minute, a software glitch then froze the picture. So we moved on to or next challenge.

Down on the ground, Maggie Shiels was waiting for my Skype video call - and, wonder of wonders, it worked. Well, the pictures worked anyway. The cabin of the flying boat was not pressurised and we could not hear each other above the roar of the engines. First, we resorted to holding up pieces of paper to our webcams, then we started Twittering to each other. It was all rather eccentric but hugely satisfying.

Row 44 isn't the first business to put the internet on a plane - Boeing's Connexion service was launched a few years back, but discontinued after the aircraft maker decided it was not going to be commercially viable. But John Guidon told me his company had come up with a better business model, and was already installing its equipment on aircraft in the United States. Later this year it should turn up in Europe.

Seeing Vegas by night from a small aircraft, while surfing and twittering, was a great way to spend an hour. (You can see some amateur video shot by me if you follow this link).

But, I hear you asking, do we really want to see the internet reach every corner of our lives? Isn't it a bonus to have somewhere that you can't be reached? Well, maybe, but I'm afraid it looks to me as if you won't have a choice - the internet is getting airborne, and for those of us addicted to connectivity that means one more place where we can obsessively check our email.


  • Comment number 1.

    Roll on the airborne internet. For those that need to use it I'm sure it will be invaluable, for those that don't there's always 'flight mode'

  • Comment number 2.

    Oh great. That will make Twitter even less interesting.

  • Comment number 3.

    > But, I hear you asking, do we really want to see the internet reach every corner of our lives?

    No, but its always struck me that being stuck on a plane is the perfect time to use the net! You are confined to a seat and dont really have much else to do except films. Hope this venture will be successful!

  • Comment number 4.

    and with one fell swoop the Digital Divide grows even larger...

  • Comment number 5.

    It is interesting to hear of the latest attempt to provide internet on board an aircraft in flight, but I think your item does not do justice to the excellent Boeing system. It is true that Boeing have been unable to make their system pay, and that indeed is the real problem. Sometimes the supposed "killer app" just doesn't sell -think of the video mobile phone, but I have used the Boeing system several times thousands of miles from the UK and had an excellent video phone call to my home. Far from being experimental, the Boeing system was fitted to many aircraft of several major carriers, but it cost, I believe, about $1M per aircraft my own experience was with Korean Air, who tend to buy the latest Gizmos! It seems that while internet in flight can be both fun and useful, many people prefer to eat, sleep, watch movies and avoid the office when they're flying.

  • Comment number 6.

    It's hardly a new concept, I used the Boeing system on a Singapore Airlines flight back in 2005. The system worked perfectly well but it was later scrapped as it didn't pay for itself.

  • Comment number 7.

    I hope that you had a entertaining and educational time in Vegas....

    ~Dennis Junior~


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