Strange New World: Tech Picks of the Week

encarta

This week, life in our Strange New World takes us to the now Web accessible stratosphere, the funeral of the online encyclopedia and brings Skype right to our pockets.

Here are our picks of the week.

American Airlines Brings Wi-Fi to the Friendly Skies

American Airlines is going to install GoGo Inflight Internet on more than 300 domestic flights in the next two years. The airline had experimented with the in-flight, Wi-Fi service for some time and has finally deemed it worthy of a full-fledged rollout.

The hot spot at 10,000 feet uses the Aircell air-to-ground (ATG) system, with three small antenna in the cabin, and Aircell's nationwide mobile broadband network.

Internet access on flights longer than three hours will cost $12.95, three hours or less, $9.95, and, if you are surfing on a mobile device, American will only charge $7.95.

In theory, this sounds pretty cool, and will make long flights a lot more bearable. That being said, if the guy next to us on a cross-country flight is Skyping for three hours, we might change our minds.

R.I.P. Microsoft Encarta

Microsoft has announced that it will no longer sell its encyclopedia product, MSN Encarta. All online Encarta products will be kaput by the end of October, except for Encarta Japan, which will last the year.

Not sure what that's about; maybe the emperor is a fan.

According to the software giant, "People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past. As part of Microsoft's goal to deliver the most effective and engaging resources for today's consumer, it has made the decision to exit the Encarta business."

We're guessing that's a long-winded way of saying Wikipedia kicked our butts.

Skype Comes to Wireless Mobile

Skype is best known for its voice telephony service, so it was only a matter of time before it went wireless. But it's not the first mobile voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) offering, and it won't fly with many wireless carriers.

On March 31, Skype announced software for BlackBerries and iPhones, a week after releasing a beta version for Windows Mobile. Earlier this year, Nokia -- the world's largest cell phone vendor in terms of volume -- announced that it would start shipping some handsets with Skype pre-loaded.

Skype Gets Blocked

But caveats abound. For example, in the case of the iPhone, Skype voice calls can be made only over Wi-Fi, not cellular. That should help reduce the amount of voice revenue that wireless carriers would lose if iPhone customers could make Skype calls over cellular.

Some cellular carriers are blocking Skype. One example is T-Mobile, which has exclusive rights for the iPhone in Germany.

"There are two reasons for this, because the high level of traffic would hinder our network performance, and because if the Skype program didn't work properly, customers would make us responsible for it," a T-Mobile spokesperson says.

Other carriers, such as AT&T and the U.K.'s O2, are allowing their iPhone customers to use Skype. Why don't they view it as a threat?

One reason is because very few carriers sell only a data plan for cell phones, so customers still have to spend at least $30 per month for voice service.

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