Growing pains with United's in-flight wifi rollout

Discussion in 'United Airlines | MileagePlus' started by Wandering Aramean, Apr 17, 2014.  |  Print Topic

  1. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    Wondering why the spit-tier pricing model disappeared so soon after it was launched? Turns out Panasonic couldn't deliver the service necessary to support it. They do believe they have the systems in place now and are awaiting word from United about re-enabling such a service.

    Both Panasonic and ViaSat acknowledged last week that United was asking for more than the providers could deliver and it took them more time than they (and we) liked to get to a stable offering.

    Read more: http://www.runwaygirlnetwork.com/20...oll-out-consistent-inflight-wi-fi-experience/.

    (That's a story I wrote so, yes, I'm shilling here. But I think it is some interesting back-story on the slow and sometimes confusing to customers deployment process from the past year or so.)
     
  2. gconnery

    gconnery Silver Member

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    Interesting. Kinda hoping I might see some Wi-Fi on a United flight to Maui later this year. Only time will tell of course.

    Honestly, the issue with supporting some kind of round-robin bandwidth to the customers in the airplane doesn't really seem that hard to manage with even a relatively cheap switch chip, probably under $25 or so. They just have to have enough memory for a buffer for each customer and then a simple scheduler on the bottom. And configure it properly. Not sure why this wasn't anticipated. Its certainly an interesting problem to deal with but it shouldn't be that hard. Obviously with the satellite bandwidth to the plane (I'm assume the issue is really just downstream not up) unaware of this you could see some cases where bytes to the heavy user are wasted on the downlink to the plane and then tossed since his buffer is already full, but all applications eventually adapt to the throughput they see, so things would settle out within a few seconds. Seems like this would be a fine solution. Perhaps they don't have the right equipment installed in the plane (meaning the switch chip or device). Certainly an off the shelf home Wi-Fi router from Best Buy isn't going to do this job very well.
     
  3. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    QoS handling isn't really that complicated. I was a bit surprised that the Panasonic guy said they had to "invent" things to make it work. Then again, I was pretty surprised that he was speaking so freely so I mostly kept my mouth shut and let my recorder run.

    But it is a good reminder that "fixing" a problem on an airplane is very different than doing it on the ground. If you change the hardware then you have to go through the STC process all over again and it gets very, very expensive quite quickly.
     
  4. COFreqFlyer
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    COFreqFlyer Gold Member

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    Within limits, of course. As we know, wifi is effectively an ethernet hub dependent upon CSMA/CA, and while there are attempts to employ QoS on the wifi medium that sometimes work ok (see wireless VoIP), someone who can get a wifi device to "flood" the RF channel will knock that out pretty quickly and easily.

    Moving back to the section of the network beyond the last 50 feet, does the service provider have an adequate way to properly tag the packets with the appropriate CoS or DSCP value? Or do they have a way to completely untag/retag those CoS/DSCP values on any traffic transiting their infrastructure? Case in point, if I can tag all my outbound packets with DSCP "EF" to my VPN concentrator, and have the packets from that device being sent back to me also similarly tagged, then I could still completely own the path by packets that I have tagged with the highest priority levels.

    Now, good network engineers will not automatically "trust" packets that are tagged by devices not under their control, and thus will need to employ some method of packet re-tagging to resolve this issue. Perhaps this may be part of what they are having to put together inside their equipment. Some of it may be handled in hardware, some in software. Obviously, the more complex the solution, the more challenging it will be to implement, depending on the hardware installed.

    ETA: Fixed some bad grammar; added links to define some of the acronyms for the technology neophytes among us. :cool:
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2014
  5. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    Sure, but given the number of reports of it not working well I'm making the guess that the problem wasn't with someone purposefully altering the QoS tags versus the kit not supporting things well. The Panasonic rep also suggested that a large part of the troubles was in choosing which data to send to the plane in which order, not handling things over the last 50 feet.
     
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  6. COFreqFlyer
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    COFreqFlyer Gold Member

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    Agree completely, given the normally "bursty" nature of the internet data exchange, all service providers will usually "oversubscribe" their uplink circuits. However, we as users more recently have tended more towards the streaming component for entertainment, so the service providers now have to deal with more constant bitrate traffic instead of bursty traffic as was previously seen... it's almost like how hotels used to try to provide free internet access using a T1 (1.5Mbps) for their feed... when folks were just doing basic browsing, you could get a fair number of people using the link without too much degradation. Now, you get a couple people streaming HD-grade video on that same T1, noone else will be able to do much of anything. Same situation exists aboard the aircraft, it doesn't take too many people on the service streaming stuff to fill up that entire 5-10Mbps RF downlink from the satellite to the aircraft.

    You and I both know about how all this stuff works. Hopefully the others reading this will either gain some insight, or run away screaming "too much tech!". ;):D
     
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  7. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    FWIW, the Panasonic guy suggested that they typically provision uplink around 25% of downlink. He also acknowledged that UA wanted service levels much different from other airlines have asked for. That meant the total bandwidth provisioned was much higher.
     
  8. legalalien
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    legalalien Gold Member

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    I think united have really shot themselves in a foot concentrating too much on tiered pricing and - presumably - streaming IFE. As a user, I don't really need multiple bandwidth options; I just need stable, working Internet. Ability to stream HD content from the ground is not necessary. Did you happen to ask Panasonic why their Wi-Fi seems to be less reliable than Gogo's? I've been on several United flights with installed, advertised, but INP Wi-Fi...percentage seems to be much higher than for airlines using Gogo service.

    Furthermore, United Wi-Fi offering lacks many useful features that seem to be completely under United's control: ability to pre-pay for Wi-Fi on the ground, coupons, or daily/monthly pricing. Heck, I can't even save my credit card info and have to type it in every time, including with billing address! Can't blame Panasonic for that.

    As a result, they're falling even further behind the competition.
     
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  9. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    During my recent JFK-LAX-SYD-SFO-JFK trip I had wi-fi all the way and back. Of course, service for the p.s. segments was provided by Gogo, but I did not pay attention to know who'd provided service for the TPAC segments. Does anyone know?
     
  10. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    I can reasonably see a market for the tiered approach. I'm not too surprised UA wanted such or that they pushed for it.
    And was never part of the offering.
    In line with the other comments made the Panasonic guy mostly fell on the grenade of "why is the service so bad on UA flights?"

    These are all functions of the portal, something United develops in partnership with the vendors. But, yes, this all sits mostly on UA.

    Panasonic provides the bandwidth on all UA's international configured planes and also the A319/320 family. LiveTV/ViaSat is responsible for the 737s.
     
  11. legalalien
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    legalalien Gold Member

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    Don't get me wrong, I can totally see a market for tiered Internet. Just not at the expense of, you know, working Internet.

    I'm sure it wasn't, but they don't seem to make any attempt to block streaming. I understand there is always a way around, but a simple firewall might stop 90+% of attempts, and that's better than nothing.
     
  12. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    Sure, but they also expected that it would work when Panasonic delivered it. ;)

    And once they realized that part wasn't working they pulled it.



    I've heard a few reports of apps and sites being blocked now. Maybe not enough or the right bits, but they are doing some.
     
  13. HeathrowGuy
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    HeathrowGuy Gold Member

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    United took a Continental-esque approach to Wifi rollout, and it was the wrong move from a commercial standpoint, IMHO.

    At least for the intra-North American fleet, faster rollout of an off-the-shelf system would have been preferable to a delayed and haphazard implementation of higher-end systems. A prolonged longhaul wifi rollout isn't a big deal since wifi is not yet a market expectation in that segment, but on domestic it hurts.
     
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  14. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    There is still no evidence that UA's limited wifi is hurting domestic yields. And having a system with much higher capacity than what gogo can provide will be more useful in the long term IMO.
     
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  15. HeathrowGuy
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    HeathrowGuy Gold Member

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    There's no evidence marketing a service offering that's still 1-2 years from pervasive and robust implementation boosts chronic yield underperformance, either...and financial data makes clear United has no greater revenue priority in the near term than winning back discerning travelers who do care about such things.

    Win passengers in the timeframe they actually fly, and you'll have/find the money needed to keep pace with long-term industry evolution. Focusing on having a great product in 2017, and hoping people don't notice or care about the next few years...well,next week's Q1 industry conference calls will further show how well that's working out.

    United hasn't helped itself by adopting a CO-style product philosophy of choosing a high-end, "cutting edge" selection (DIRECTV, Flat Bed BusinessFirst seats, fancy-schmancy Wifi) fraught with budget and implementation challenges that, when all is said and done, produces many months or years of delays that undermine company marketing efforts, create an inconsistent passenger experience, and leave the airline with a service offering that's mid-level at best, since the passage of time raised the bar on the cutting edge.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2014
  16. legalalien
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    legalalien Gold Member

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    I kinda wonder what is hurting domestic yields...US flying public seems to forgive just about any transgression as long as the fare displayed is $5 lower. Perhaps if more travel websites start adopting Routehappy-like display, then airlines will feel something.

    Except the time to realize that a part isn't working is before the launch...unless you work on healthcare.gov. ;)

    ETA: It just seems the priority was to leapfrog the competition instead of catching up to it, and in the process they end up with no reliably working Wi-Fi while all major competitors have it pretty much across their entire fleets. I would prefer that they catch up first, then work on leapfrogging.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2014
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  17. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    HaveMilesWillTravel Gold Member

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    I am really, really surprised that the guy spoke so freely and openly about the problems and took the blame for it. Maybe check in with him in a few weeks to see if he's still with Panasonic.
     
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  18. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    I, too, was shocked. I played the recording to my editor and her jaw dropped.

    But I'm definitely going to use the quotes to my full advantage as a writer. :)
     
  19. Captain Oveur
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    Captain Oveur Gold Member

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    The entire airline is "Continental-esque."
     
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  20. avflyer
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    avflyer Silver Member

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    Don't count on it. The 739s they are running out to the islands have Wifi, but no coverage over the Pacific. That goes for the DirecTV they have on board also (you can still watch the movies as they are housed in on-board servers). If you get on a 757 that is even worse. Ghetto Birds. Not sure about the 772s they have converted to "Hawaiian" configuration. It would make sense that the coverage was over the Pacific wouldn't it? Also this is "WIfi Streaming" so, leave your Android at home, I understand that this system is compatible with IOS only.
     
  21. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    The 777s in Islands config will have the full wifi later this year; right now they are on-board streaming only. There was a delay due to FAA issues with the radome certification. And the 757s likely won't be configured this year as many are being retired sooner than not.
     
  22. avflyer
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    avflyer Silver Member

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    I think we have gone through this before. It's the 752s that are going to the shredder or Fedex not the 753s? I would love to see an improvement on these birds, anything at all would be good.
     
  23. ssullivan
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    ssullivan Gold Member

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    Correct, the 752s are being retired. The 753s are sticking around.
     
  24. Pizzaman
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    As a survey sample of one, I will book away from UA on certain routes (IAD-LAX comes to mind) and fly AA for the wifi. AA is usually cheaper but it's even worth it for me to spend a bit more and get 5 hours of connectivity. I'm also 100% sure I'm way more exception than rule.
     
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  25. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    Yup, and the 753s will get some wifi at some point.
     
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