Traceroute from a 747

connexionI’m extracting some true geek pleasure out of being on the internet while in a 747-400, 35,000 feet up en route from Heathrow to Singapore thanks to the Boeing Connexion wireless broadband system on the plane. And because I got a special meal, I’ve already finished it and am taking advantage of the tray table while the guy in front has his seat up for mealtime.

Other poor sods with normal dietary needs are being asked if they’d like the chicken and potatoes or the beef and rice, while I, on the other hand, had a delicious diabetic meal of chicken breast with pesto and fresh strawberries. (I’m not diabetic, but I do genuinely have to eat low glycemic-index foods for medical reasons; it’s not just a ploy to get my meal first and free up my tray table.)

DSC_0005I’m getting extra-stingy pleasure out of the fact that I’m only paying $US14.97 for my satellite internet access for the entire flight thanks to that coupon I found online. When you consider they charge $US3.50 for an SMS through the armrest-handsets and $US6 per minute to make a phone call, it is exceptionally good value. (Especially considering I can send SMSii through my normal online method for 16c, and if I really wanted to annoy people around me, make phone calls free of charge through Skype.)

A network traceroute from the plane is quite interesting. First three steps are what look like a local router on the plane judging by the 1ms response times. Then, you hop on to some sort of local network at Boeing or its provider ( with a half-second ping time. Packet latency of up to two seconds for the rest of the route, which travels via Sprint and (MCI) to Australia.

The connection is NATted through a router as I can see – my computer has an IP address that in the 172.16 range.

danonplaneI’m able to connect to all the instant messaging networks and do FTP to my web server, etc. All in all, a very nice connection. I did a test download (using a multipart download accelerator) too, to see how quick the sat-link actually was, and speed fluctuated between 70KB – 170KB/s (560 – 1360 Kbit/s). Not too shabby, considering that’s faster than what I’d get at home on ADSL. I didn’t download much though — didn’t want to bog the connection down for everyone else in the plane. (Just a couple of Linux distributions, you know, the small stuff.)

accesspointsUPDATE: Boeing hasn’t designed this system by halves (as you would expect, I suppose.) There are no less than five access points within range of my Powerbook on the plane. They’ve neatly used non-overlapping channels. I also note they have a lot of content cached locally… even when satellite reception dropped out and I got a ‘service temporarily unavailable’ message, I was still able to use the Singapore Airlines website (though, obviously none of the functions that called databases worked.)


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