AT 30,000 FEET ABOVE NEW YORK -- Gone are the days when aircraft were metal tubes of isolation. Get ready to hear more "Hello? I'm on a plane" on your cross-country flights.
Gogo has unveiled its latest in-flight technology, allowing smartphone users to make phone calls and send text messages as if they were on the ground. The aircraft connectivity company on Friday touted its Text & Talk technology to CNET aboard a private jet, departing from and returning to New Jersey's Newark International Airport.
While in-flight Wi-Fi is far from new and is increasingly popular among consumers and business customers across the United States, other means of communications -- such as calling and texting -- have taken a back seat in favor of social media sites and movie streaming.
By utilizing Gogo's air-to-ground connectivity, calls and texts back on Earth are now routed through the aircraft's wireless network rather than in-flight cell towers, or "picocells."
During my in-flight experience, the app worked well. Text messages were sent instantly and received just as quickly. Although the app itself is still in "beta" development, its functionality was quite simple. Voice calls were dodgy, but are much at the mercy of the plane's Wi-Fi network.
New rules by the Federal Aviation Administration now allow consumers to, from takeoff through landing, subject to individual airline rules. But any device that transfers data still needs to be in "airplane mode" -- transmissions over cellular networks, regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, are still prohibited while in flight. That means you can't make a call over, say, AT&T's 4G network at the departing gate and keep chatting on that connection during takeoff and while you're in the air.
Enter Gogo's new workaround.
Users aboard commercial flights with Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi access can download a companion app, which the company describes as an "extension" of the regular cellular network. This allows smartphone users to roam on the in-flight network as if they were connected to a land-based cell network.
Gogo had been well aware for some time of the demand for that kind of service, product manager Tony LaMarca told CNET on the ground. "We tried to find something that worked, but there was nothing that was quite exactly what end users wanted," he said. "We looked at a number of solutions and started from scratch."
The Text & Talk service currently works for Android devices and iPhones. The company is looking at supporting Windows Phone in the near future.
Brad Jaehn, Gogo's vice president of product, told CNET tht the service will launch on commercial flights in the first quarter of 2014, with the rest of this year spent on further development and testing.
Pricing has yet to be announced. "We're still working out the business model," Jaehn said.
The company has more than 6,000 Gogo-equipped aircraft, from American Airlines, Delta, United, and Virgin America.
Follow #gogocnet on Twitter for coverage from the aircraft as-it-happened.