Gogo's in-flight Wi-Fi is starting to roll out a major new feature: the ability to send and receive text messages and phone calls while up in the air. Call and texts over Gogo's new Talk & Text service have to be made through its upcoming iOS or upcoming Android app, but Gogo says that they'll all be made using the phone's own number, so nothing will change for people who contact you. The feature isn't available on any consumer flights just yet — though it recently launched with a few business partners — but Gogo says that it's in talks to get it up and running on commercial airlines by the end of this year or the first quarter of 2014.
Gogo's chief marketing officer, Ash ElDifrawi, says that the company expects most people to use the service for text messaging. "While we see this as more of a text messaging product for commercial airlines in the United States, the phone functionality is something that some international air carriers and our business aviation customers are asking for," ElDifrawi says in a statement. A representative explained to The Verge that its airline partners, like Delta and American Airlines, are not interested in bringing in-flight phone calls to their planes — and it's not hard to imagine why. Indeed, Gogo already blocks Skype and other such services from using its internet in the skies at the request of such airlines, and the company does not expect to launch its voice services on any domestic flights.
Don't worry, phone calls aren't coming to domestic flights
Expanding its texting service onto commercial flights should be easy, as Gogo doesn't have to install any new equipment. As a representative told The Verge, "we can just turn on the application ... on any plane that's already been Gogo-ized." That's because the technology uses your internet connection to communicate with Gogo and its partners' backend services, which then send and receive text messages and calls as if you were using your provider's cell network. This also means that if your carrier has partnered with Gogo for the service (all four major US carriers have already), you won't pay roaming charges no matter where you are.
While Gogo hasn't yet revealed its pricing strategy for the new service, representatives have made it clear that the company plans to launch the service in the US as a separate offering from its current internet connectivity packages. In the future the service could offering in a bundle with its traditional Wi-Fi offering, but at launch you should expect it to be a separate and far more affordable option than the data plans currently available.
It's also worth noting that the service will not function below 10,000 feet, despite the FAA's recent decision to drop its electronics ban. Gogo's in-flight internet services are designed to function in the air, and a representative noted that "the amount of work we'd have to do to change the network" likely isn't worth it for the extra few minutes of surfing. We're not complaining; we'd rather see the company focus its efforts on upgrading its connection speeds and capacity by bringing its recently-announced ground-to-orbit service with up to 60 Mbps speeds to commercial flights.
Update: This article was updated with additional information on the company's Talk & Text service, including its pricing strategy and plans for expansion.
Jacob Kastrenakes contributed to this report.