The Qantas move to give free wi-fi in its some of its domestic terminals from October, and no doubt the others sooner rather than later, undermines the fallacy that video conferencing or new high speed broadband HD options will diminish the need to fly.

Being able to stay connected for more of the trip, whether its interstate, or long haul, means people can arrive better prepared for doing business, rather than having to play catch-up after a black out period whether it lasted less than two or more than 20 hours.

Qantas is moving closer to the day that the trip to the airport by taxi or rail will seamlessly merge in terms of using a tablet or phone all the way through the terminals, coffee shops, club rooms and aerobridges until you are in your seat and the crew advise that devices must now be switched off.

This is what many city commuters other than drivers can already do, now that, depending on the location and mode of daily transport,  many of the black spots caused by tunnels or cuttings have been filled in with usable connectivity.

If you commute in Sydney higher speed connectivity has already made an overwhelmingly second rate public transport system a means of clawing back the time, as well as the money, wasted on driving. Wi-fi is now a reason to tolerate a rail trip that may be slower than driving in some cases because of the lost hours you can get back.

Naturally, the big black spot is while you are making a domestic flight. The connectivity that is now commonly available or rapidly spreading on international services isn’t going to be provided on inter city flights in Australia until the airlines, and the telcos, and where essential, the satellite operators, have agreed on who is going to gouge whom the hardest for the most.

Once an agreement is reached that makes the investment in the on board system viable for the airlines there is little doubt the cost and margins will all get loaded onto the passengers, and because it is likely to be a significant charge per person, it will most likely be an optional extra,  billed directly to your phone and ISP account, in order to avoid losing total price advantages when fare wares flare.

It’s about 16 or 17 years since I saw the great visionary Bill Gates promise that by 2000 many people would use the internet as an alternative to flying, and use mega web enabled accountancy services to file tax returns, or choose and pay for consumer goods.

Not all of this came true. We fly more than ever, and use the internet, as people like Gerry Harvey keeps reminding us, to avoid paying taxes, or the silly prices charged by change resistant retailers, as well as cutting out the time taken to visit retail precincts, at least in part.

Arriving informed and up to date seems today to be far more important than meeting and negotiating on-line, an activity which has always seemed like a ridiculous fantasy compared to the real world dynamics in personal communication in business.

It is what gets said and done in the side-lines to the conference, at the golf course, or in a bar or other venue where the real talking and dealing occurs, and which will never be done talking into a screen during a discourse which is allegedly encrypted and secured by the types of electronic communication which keep demonstrating that they are neither infallible nor trustworthy.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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