Think a Lot of People are Using Wifi In the Air? Think Again

Last Updated Nov 24, 2009 10:31 AM EST

In the past, airborne wireless usage numbers have been tough to come by. Wifi provider Row 44 has been more forthcoming than AirCell, but Row 44 has such a small footprint right now that it's not necessarily indicative of broader numbers. Virgin America has said it's seeing good usage, but you would expect that on an airline that targets the Silicon Valley crowd. Now, we're getting some numbers from AirCell that indicate what most have thought - usage isn't good.

Runway Girl Mary Kirby has the scoop, and it looks like there's an average of 6 internet users per flight on AirCell-equipped aircraft. No wonder they're doing these sponsored wifi deals these days. They just need to get people using the product and making it free will hopefully help them with that.

Here's how the math works. AirCell now says it's serving about 100,000 users a week. That sounds like a lot of people until you break it down. That's 14,286 people per day and there are currently 623 airplanes with AirCell service. That means 23 users per day.

Runway Girl's source suggests that these aircraft fly an average of four flights per day, and that would mean 6 people per flight. But that may be overstating it. Sure, American's 767s flying across the country only fly a couple flights a day, but the hundreds of MD-80s with this service may fly more than that. Regardless of what the actual number is, the reality is that it's pretty tiny.

I look forward to seeing how this settles out. People clearly aren't going in droves to pay for wifi, but will they log on when it's free? Eventually, they'll find the right mix here to make for a good business, but it's going to take some experimenting.