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article imageNew platform offers improved in-flight WiFi

By Tim Sandle     Mar 21, 2017 in Travel
WiFi services on aircraft are notoriously inefficient: often slow and prone to cutting out. Too overcome this, technologists have developed an extension called ScaleUp that significantly improves web browsing speeds at 30,000 feet.
The ScaleUp device has been specially create to work with the Google Chrome browser (potentially leading to envious looks from those who prefer Internet Explorer or Firefox). The development comes from Northwestern University’s Engineering Department, with the team led by Professor Fabián Bustamante.
The reason in flight WiFi is so poor is because the typical plane is set-up to provide Internet access at the same speed as a typical smartphone. This would work well, in theory, if there is one user and one smartphone but not very well if several hundred passengers are accessing the service at the same time. Aircraft access the Internet via satellites or cell towers and there is a delay between the point of transmission and the plane picking up the signal. In other words, the Internet access people are increasingly becoming used to at home and work, via broadband, is far superior to what is available on-board an aircraft travelling at a high altitude. This becomes more problematic with more sophisticated websites, such as those full of interesting images and videos, together with social network sharing options (much like the news pages of Digital Journal).
To overcome this, Professor Bustamante first used a tool called WiFly to test the quality of on-flight Internet connections and the results were shockingly bad. This is doubly so given the amount passengers pay in additional fees to access the service.
The answer to this was to design an extension called ScaleUp and works, as the name suggests, by makes everything bigger. This mirrors the way a responsive website adjusts the layout to a user’s desktop or tablet or smartphone, the ScaleUp platform adapts the content by increasing the size of the images. This serves to push content down the page and, in turn, this reduces the number of objects the browser has to handle at any point in time.
ScaleUp also speed sup page loading by dropping the font-load request aspect of different sites. While these are designed to make pages look fancy, the loading of different fonts takes time and uses a lot of capacity. By using a standard, default font ScaleUp loads pages faster and the user does not miss out on any significant losses to page content. In addition, ScaleUp increases the font size, which simplifies the loading of the page.
In trials using ScaleUp on several aircraft, CNN’s front page was loaded four times faster using the platform, with Google Chrome, compared with a standard browsers. It is hoped that the platform will be commercialized soon.
More about Wifi, Flights, Aircraft, Aeroplane, Internet
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