Aircraft Router Basics: Decoding 802.11 Capabilities for In-Cabin Wi-Fi

So, you’re in the market for a new inflight Internet system for your aircraft. You’re doing the research to find the best solution to fit your aircraft’s needs. In discovering the different options available, you realize that you’re not quite sure how to make sense of some of the product specifications – specifically, 802.11ac. Or, for that matter, 802.11b, g or n. You ask yourself, “What’s the difference?” And, “what’s the best option for me?”

Understanding the different data speeds, frequency ranges and radio channels for each standard is important. Based on your Internet activity, passenger (or device) count and aircraft size, the available 802.11 standard will influence how well your inflight Wi-Fi networks perform.

802.11: Which Wi-Fi option is best for me?

802.11 was the original wireless standard defined by the Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEEE) and released in 1997. All wireless routers at the time were built to this standard. No letter designations existed to start, but came later as enhancements were made to the original wireless standard to allow for increased speed and, in some cases, increased frequency distances.

Each 802.11 letter designation offers additional capabilities to account for the advancements in Wi-Fi usage. The following table summarizes the 802.11 letter designations and the enhancements added in each new standard. Plus, we offer some additional information on the online activities best supported by each technology.

Wireless standard Specifications Overview
802.11b
  • Speed: 11 Mbps
  • Frequency range: 115 ft
  • Radio channel: 2.4GHz
  • Released: 1999

Routers with only Wireless B are no longer manufactured. However, some newer routers still support this wireless standard.

A Wireless B device operates at the unregulated 2.4GHz frequency range, which is the same frequency as many common aircraft appliances. You may experience interference depending on how close the router or wireless device is to any of these appliances.

While outdated, Wireless B technology offers acceptable support for lower-bandwidth activities, such as: email, text / talk, light web browsing.

802.11g
  • Speed: 54 Mbps
  • Frequency range: 125 ft
  • Radio channel: 2.4GHz
  • Released: 2003

Wireless G operates at the unregulated 2.4GHz frequency range, so it has the same interference issues that Wireless B has. Wireless G is backward compatible with Wireless B devices.

The main benefit of a Wireless G router over a Wireless B router is speed. However, you’d see best performance with fewer connections and non-streaming activities.

802.11n
  • Speed: 300 Mbps
  • Frequency range: 230 ft
  • Radio channel: 2.4GHz / 5GHz
  • Released: 2009

 

Wireless N operates at both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The availability to operate at the 5GHz frequency provides greater throughput than the 2.4GHz frequency and a less-congested connection.

Wireless N devices can operate on multiple signals (called Multiple In – Multiple Out, or MIMO) and have 2 or 3 antennas – which influences the network speed, depending on your configuration. Wireless N also has increased signal range/power over Wireless G.

Wireless N technology enables higher-bandwidth activities in flight, such as:

  • Streaming video and audio
  • Uploading large attachments
  • Managing multiple streaming connections
802.11ac
  • Speed: 1 Gbps
  • Frequency range: 115 ft
  • Radio channel: 2.4GHz / 5GHz
  • Released: 2013

Wireless AC is sometimes referred to as Gigabit Wi-Fi (1 Gigabit Per Second).

This technology delivers three times the processing speed than Wireless N routers, as well as beamforming signal support for better Wi-Fi connections.  Wireless AC also offers additional capacity and support in the 5GHz frequency for more data intense applications.

 

When to upgrade to 802.11ac router technology

Knowing when to update your wireless router technology depends on what level of Internet activity and service plan you want to support in flight. Wireless AC router technology offers more robust capabilities to manage multiple connections and streaming. Given the three-fold increase in speed with 802.11ac and the availability of 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz frequencies, these activities should perform much faster for an optimum in-cabin passenger experience.

With the introduction of the Gogo AVANCE platform, Gogo Business Aviation now offers solutions with dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi support. If you’re ready to learn more about our new solution capabilities, connect with a Gogo Business Aviation connectivity consultant. We're ready to answer your questions and help you determine the best product for your specific inflight Wi-Fi needs.

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