Google Chrome extension ScaleUp can make your in-flight Wi-Fi fly

Northwestern University browser add-on aims to speed internet access up in the air

Google Chrome extension ScaleUp can make your in-flight Wi-Fi fly
Northwestern University (One-Time Use)

Northwestern University researchers have devised a Google Chrome browser extension that might just help you get your money's worth for in-flight Wi-Fi.

The ScaleUp extension stems from research originally conducted using a Northwestern-developed tool called WiFly for testing Internet connection speeds for in-flight Wi_fi. The result of these tests was that "travelers are paying a lot of money and getting modem-like performance," said Fabian Bustamante, professor of computer science at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering, in a statement.

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Given that planes use faraway satellites and cell towers to deliver your internet content, the researchers sought a way to lighten the load on your browser by simplifying the content being accessed. That involves scaling everything up, such as making images bigger, so that the browser doesn't have to digest so many images, links, social sharing buttons and videos all at once just because they are all on a page. It also foregoes downloading a bunch of different font sizes, and increases the size of fonts it does accept to push other objects down the page a bit.

An example using cnn.com on the ScaleUp page shows a fourfold speed improvement using the Chrome extension.

Bustamante says he is working with in-flight internet service providers to make the tool work better, such as by better understanding packet loss, and also relies on feedback from customer usage. But the extension developers assure users that they aren't tracking which pages they visit.

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