What is the Airborne Internet?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Also known simply as AI, the airborne Internet is a communication network that is designed to include nodes or points of contact or interaction on different types of aircraft. First conceived in 1999, the idea of an Internet communications and delivery system that is air-based for use by passengers and crew on airplanes has undergone some revisions over the years, especially as technology continued to advance during the first decade of the 21st century. In additional to consumer applications, the airborne Internet is also perceived as being a means of creating a communications and information network that could be used in emergency situations or as part of military strategies.

Several firms have studied using dirigibles or controlled balloons to broadcast wireless internet signals over remote areas.
Several firms have studied using dirigibles or controlled balloons to broadcast wireless internet signals over remote areas.

The idea behind the airborne Internet is to eliminate the need for any type of communications infrastructure that is land-based. Instead, the equipment needed to create the network would be installed in aircraft of different types, essentially making it possible to maintain communications and information flow even if key facilities located on the ground were rendered inoperable. At the same time, the air-based Internet would have full capability to interact with land-based facilities when and as practical.

The airborne Internet is designed to ensure the safety of passengers who are traveling on commercial flights.
The airborne Internet is designed to ensure the safety of passengers who are traveling on commercial flights.

There are a number of advantages associated with the use of an airborne Internet. One has to do with maintaining the flow of information and communication functions in the event of some type of natural disaster. By eliminating the need to route signaling through any type of land-based facility, it would be possible to keep in constant contact with the area affected by the disaster, making it easier to coordinate rescue and disaster relief efforts. Another has to do with enhancing safety for commercial airlines, since the infrastructure of this type of network would allow aircraft to monitor movements in the sky with a greater degree of efficiency than more traditional methods.

Use of an airborne Internet in war would make it easier to coordinate military campaigns even if ground level communications had been disrupted in some way. As a result, the campaigns would have a greater degree of success while also decreasing the potential for loss of life. Even in peacetime, military use of the airborne Internet would mean greater coordination in plotting flight plans and tracking progress of flights of interest from the point of origination to the point of destination.

Over the years, the concepts used to define how to configure an airborne Internet have shifted as technology has opened additional opportunities for the setup of this type of network. At different types, prototypes for the network have been launched and tested, with varying degrees of success. Efforts to create a truly worldwide airborne Internet are continuing today, and will likely continue until this important communication tool is fully operational.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including EasyTechJunkie, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal - I'm not sure what kind of airborne internet service would be able to survive a disaster anyway, unless we are talking about satellites. It seems like they are experimenting more with balloons and things, which are going to require frequent maintenance.

The only entity that I could imagine really being able to maintain that kind of operation, apart from a government, is a corporation, and they aren't going to be all that great at cutting out the censorship either.


@Mor - I've got to admit, I like the idea for almost the opposite reason. I think humanity is heading for a fall in the next few decades. We are going to exhaust a lot of natural resources and that is going to lead to a lot of tension, both between countries and in terms of natural disasters.

If we could develop an independent, airborne internet, that could survive even during potential disasters, that will help to ensure that we don't lose touch with the wealth of information that the internet provides.

Unfortunately, I think the biggest hurdle here is censorship and government interference. It's not exactly in most governments' best interests to permit the free flow of information.


I would love it if this really happened. I feel like the internet is enabling humanity to become more of a close-knit community and this is a good thing for our future. At the moment, there are a lot of people who are still being excluded, because they simply don't have access. But, with mobile phones becoming more and more ubiquitous, even in developing countries, I don't think it will be too much longer before everyone is online.

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