Gogo adds voice calls, text messages to in-flight offerings

Airlines can still keep passengers from talking on the phone

Passengers in flight could make voice calls and exchange text messages using a new service from Gogo, but that doesn't mean your seatmate will necessarily be able to blab all through your next flight.

Gogo's Text & Talk service uses the company's in-flight Wi-Fi networks to carry text messages and voice calls from passengers' own Wi-Fi-equipped phones. Customers will be able to use it through free iOS and Android apps, Gogo said.

The company has already launched Text & Talk with some business aviation customers and is talking to commercial airlines about providing it for their passengers. It could be offered by itself or bundled with regular Gogo W-Fi, the company said.

For travelers worried about hearing one side of a conversation all the way from Los Angeles to New York, the introduction of Text & Talk isn't necessarily the end of the world. Airlines can still dictate whether passengers can make voice calls, and most U.S. airlines don't allow them despite the introduction of in-flight Wi-Fi and Internet-based voice services such as Skype.

"While we see this as more of a text messaging product for commercial airlines in the United States, the phone functionality is something that some international air carriers and our business aviation customers are asking for," Gogo Chief Marketing Officer Ash ElDifrawi said in a press release.

Text & Talk is designed to make Gogo Wi-Fi an extension of carriers' cellular systems, allowing users to go onto the cabin network as if roaming onto another carrier's network, the company said. Travelers aren't allowed to connect with land-based cellular networks in flight because of safety and network concerns. Gogo's service uses Wi-Fi systems installed on planes with special cellular connections to Gogo's own towers on the ground.

Gogo's announcement comes just days after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration changed its rules to let passengers use electronic devices during takeoff and landing as long as they're in "airplane mode" and not using wireless networks. Under these rules, using phones for Text & Talk would still only be allowed at cruising altitude.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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