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Testing Gogo's in-flight text, talk

CNET's Zack Whittaker headed to Newark International Airport to check out Gogo's latest service: talking and texting in the skies, as though you were on the ground. We boarded Gogo's private plane to test the service out at 30,000 feet.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Zack Whittaker/CNET
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Antenna

Under the nose of the plane you can see two antennas. These are to communicate with ground-based antennas that broadcast signal across America. Gogo has more than 200 antennas across the country.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Zack Whittaker/CNET
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Gogo's private plane

We boarded the flight early in the morning, armed with our smartphones, ready to test out the service, which is pegged for a early 2014 launch. Texting and talking requires Wi-Fi access, so you can't keep a conversation going gate-to-gate, even with recent changes to the aviation rules. You still have to switch your device to "airplane mode" until you're at 10,000 feet.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Zack Whittaker/CNET
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Boarding

The plane itself was plush but small. But there was no need to wait in line at the TSA checkpoint. Because it's a private flight, there was no security. We even got to poke our heads into the cockpit -- although, not while they were flying.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Zack Whittaker/CNET
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Over the wing

The flight lasted about an hour and soared as high as 30,000 feet to test the new service. At that altitude, we're in the same territory as commercial trans-America and trans-Atlantic flights.

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Wi-Fi at 10,000 feet

Because of airline rules, we weren't able to get access to Wi-Fi until 10,000 feet. Once the Gogo wireless networks are switched on, you can connect your Android device or iPhone to the simulated cellular service, enabling texting and talking between devices in the air as well as on the ground.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Zack Whittaker/CNET
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Gogo engineer

Here we have Gogo engineer Ron Barczak testing the network once we reach altitude at which the wireless network can be switched on. In his testing, he's able to tweak the settings to ensure the best connectivity during the flight.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Zack Whittaker/CNET
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High over New Jersey

Soaring through the skies, you can see the ground below. Here you can see New Jersey's industrial landscape.

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Texting

Although the app itself is still in "beta" development, its functionality is simple. Voice calls were tricky, but are much at the mercy of the plane's Wi-Fi network. Text messages were sent and received instantly.

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Air-to-ground connectivity

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, otherwise known as "picocells."

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Testing station

Barczak showed us around the testing station, where numerous boxes and servers are stacked up. These racks enable the air-to-ground connectivity. The in-flight technology company is currently experimenting with various boxes of different designs.

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In-flight tech

Up close, you can see these servers take up only a little space in the grand scheme of things. On commercial airlines, there are six access points throughout the plane.

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'Overnight' installation

But the newer, latest-generation boxes are a little bigger than a home router. The actual installation is an "overnight" process, according to Barczak, and takes up very little space.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Zack Whittaker/CNET
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