Back to the Future…

I’m writing this blog at 34,000 feet somewhere over the North Atlantic … totally unconnected while flying from one part of the “connected” world to another. No WiFi, which means of course no eMail, no surfing, and of course no VoIP telephony.

I daresay most people would tell me to wait … WiFi on virtually all international flights is coming one of these days. After all, WiFi is rolling out at rapid pace on domestic air routes, so it can’t be long before it will be available over water or desolate masses of land.

To most people that may be the future, but to me it’s ‘back to the future,’ It was barely a decade ago that I was flying essentially the same route I’m on now – and merrily IM’ing with my family and even making VoIP calls. What may have faded from most people’s memories is a service called Connexion, by Boeing – which lost a billion dollars on the pioneering airborne WiFi service, finally giving up on it as a bad deal.

Ah, but the fun of surfing while over the Atlantic, IM’ing high over Siberia, and chatting via VoIP while over the Mediterranean. And let’s not forget actually eMailing and posting my musing while crossing the Sea of Japan. Now, while I can write this while in the air, I have to post it after I land.

Now I am aware that some folk feel that even with WiFi aboard a plane, VoIP telephony shouldn’t be allowed. They have all sorts of arguments. Some are silly enough to say that VoIP uses too much bandwidth … but I can tell you from calls I made using the limited bandwidth of a decade ago that’s just not true in real life.

Then there are those who argue that people will be annoying if they can make phone calls from the plane. Well, I might point out that I can make a phone call from this plane. Every single seat is equipped with a phone, and there doesn’t seem to be any fear that passengers will be annoyed if those phones are used.  The obvious answer is that somebody’s getting $7 a MINUTE for those calls. No surprise they don’t want to see airborne VoIP, which costs not even 7 cents a minute.

Even if I couldn’t make voice calls from the air, access to the Internet would still be important to my voice needs. That’s because with the business VoIP system I use from Phone.com, it should be a cinch to set up transfers from my U.S. cell and desktop VoIP phones to the cell numbers I expect to soon have on a local overseas phone network (yes, I do have international roaming, but I do NOT intend to pay $2 for a one minute roaming call).

Meanwhile, though, while I’m still in the air any calls I do get are going into the great netherworld somewhere … hopefully to my Phone.com voicemail. So when I can finally log onto the web from somewhere I’ll get the messages, indeed get them in a transcribed version, via Phone.com’s voicemail transcription service.

The reason I’m only hopeful that will happen, but not sure, is that in typical fashion I procrastinated and didn’t try to set up the forwarding until I was actually sitting on the plane at JFK waiting to take off. And the AT&T customer service guy who tried to help me sounded like he was first reading the instructions of how to set up call forwarding – took him half an hour to do just two phone numbers.

But I’ll write about that next week, when I have a chance to get on the web and do the job myself the right way … the last time I did such a thing with Phone.com’s dashboard it took but a couple of minutes, and that time I was just learning how to do it.

Stuart Zipper is currently a contributing editor to Communications Technology, a high tech business journalism consultant and freelancer, and the past Senior Editor of TelecomWeb news break.