Airfone

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Airfone was a brand of air-ground radiotelephone service offered by Verizon. Airfone allows passengers to make telephone calls in-flight. An Airfone telephone is usually located in the seatback of the seat in front of the passenger, there may only be one per row in coach class, while first class may have one per seat. Airfone phone calls are usually quite expensive compared to ground-based telephone calls, costing $3.99 per call and $4.99 per minute in 2006.

The original Airfone main office and Network Operations Center are located at 2809 Butterfield Rd, Oak Brook, IL. The Network Operations Center remains at this location.[1]

Bell Mobility used the Airfone technology on Air Canada flights, but brands its service Skytel (no relation to the Verizon-owned paging firm of the same name).

Use[edit]

Calls were often discounted or free for customers of airplane-based catalogs like Sky Mall, and Verizon Wireless subscribers can pay $10 per month and 10 cents a call or a flat 69 cents per call with no monthly fee. Airfone could be used for very slow modem calls, and attempts at data service were made in 2003 and 2004 using an on-board email proxy server.

Many of the in-flight calls made by victims of 9/11 were made over Airfone and Air One.[2]

Airfone's primary competitor was Air One, operated by AT&T Wireless division Claircom Communications Group, and was available onboard American Airlines, Northwest Airlines, and select Delta Air Lines aircraft. The Air One service was discontinued in 2002.

History[edit]

Development[edit]

The Airfone was originated by John D. Goeken (who also founded MCI Communications and FTD's Mercury Network) in the 1970s. Western Union purchased a fifty percent share in Airfone in 1981 and sold to GTE in 1986 for US$39 million cash.[3] Delta Air Lines offered the United States's first public air-to-ground telephone system with Airfone.

The first iteration of Airfone service only permitted air-to-ground calls and frequently dropped calls. A new generation dubbed GenStar was developed jointly by GTE and IEX Corp. in 1992. IEX developed the software, which ran on hardware built by Stratus Computers. GenStar introduced the capacity for airborne nodes to also receive calls, and for connections to be handed over between ground cells as the aircraft moved through them, reducing dropped calls. Handsets also gained screens and jacks for fax transmissions.[4][5]

Demise[edit]

The head of the Airfone division told the New York Times in 2004 that only two to three people use the Airfone service per flight. In May and June 2006, the frequencies (bandwidth) over which Airfone operated were sold at auction by the Federal Communications Commission to two new licenseholders, Aircell and LiveTV.[6] Under the terms of the FCC order that authorized the auction, Verizon received a non-renewable license until 2010, but has two years from the end of the auction to redeploy Airfone to use less bandwidth and share spectrum with one of the license winners.

On June 23, 2006, Verizon Communications, Airfone's parent company, announced that they would be discontinuing their Airfone service on all commercial flights by the end of 2006. They cited the declining use of the service, as well as a desire to focus on their key businesses: broadband, wireless and wireline services. Airfone service is currently[when?] installed on 1000 aircraft belonging to United Airlines and Continental Airlines. US Airways and Delta Air Lines have removed all Airfone handsets from their planes. Verizon will continue to provide service on 3,400 private and government aircraft.

On December 28, 2007 Airfone announced it will discontinue service effective December 31, 2008 unless it successfully concludes negotiations with LiveTV, an affiliate of JetBlue, to take over the business on that date. On June 9, 2008, JetBlue announced that it will buy Verizon's Airfone service. NOTE: The sale of Verizon Airfone to LiveTV (JetBlue) was separate from the sale of the bandwidth that Verizon Airfone used for its operations. In another transaction, LiveTV acquired about 1/3 of the original Airfone bandwidth from the FCC.[7]

LiveTV Continues In Flight Voice For General Aviation[edit]

For a time LiveTV offered, nation wide, mobile telephone style voice service to general aviation aircraft. This service was identical to the original Verizon Airfone service. However because of the change of bandwidth allocation, all of the existing Airfone tranceivers in the aircraft were required to be replaced. [8]

LiveTV Sells Airfone To Aircell[edit]

April 2013, Aircell acquired LiveTV's Airfone® business unit, and announced that in order to support capacity-expansion for the Gogo Biz® [9] in-flight Internet service, the Airfone service will be permanently decommissioned on December 31, 2013. No extensions will be available.[10]

References[edit]

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