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In-flight Wi-Fi is here – if you catch the right plane

April 12, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

If you want to test domestic in-flight Wi-Fi, either on Qantas or Virgin Australia, you had better catch the right plane.

Qantas is offering fast, free connectivity on Australian domestic flights – but not quite yet. So far, it’s available only on one aircraft.

“Following months of performance testing with global broadband services provider ViaSat and the nbn Sky Muster satellite service, Wi-Fi will now operate in beta mode on a single Boeing 737 aircraft (registration VH-XZB),” Qantas said.

The airline said the limited release was to give customers the opportunity to “test it out for themselves on selected flights while Qantas continues to fine-tune the system”.

Rival Virgin Australia is following a similar trajectory. Virgin is working with in-flight connectivity provider Gogo and Optus to provide customers with inflight Wi-Fi on domestic and international services.

From this month, Virgin Australia will begin a three-month customer testing period. You can try it, but only on the right plane. Like Qantas, Virgin Australia will run the system first a single Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

“This period will be used to gather feedback from customers, with a full installation of 2Ku across Virgin Australia’s fleet of Boeing 737-800, Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 aircraft planned following the customer testing period,” Virgin Australia said.

Qantas expects to have completed its testing by mid-year. From there installation of the technology is expected to begin on Qantas’ domestic fleet of Airbus 330s and Boeing 737s. The roll-out across 80 aircraft will be completed at the end of 2018.

Qantas says its system offers speeds up to 10 times faster than conventional on-board Wi-Fi and gives customers the ability to stream movies, TV shows, music and news programs – including through content partnerships with Foxtel, Stan, Netflix and Spotify.  Customers can also stay connected through email as well as social media, watch the latest YouTube clips or shop online.

Importantly: “In the interests of everyone in the cabin, however, voice calls will not be allowed.”

Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce says: “On flights between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, where we have a lot of business travellers, we expect the system to get a real work out with email and web browsing. We also know customers want down time, which is why we’ve partnered with streaming services like Foxtel and Stan so there’s no shortage of things to help people tune out.

“From a competitive perspective, today’s announcement puts us in a very strong position. No other domestic airline is offering its passengers next-generation Wi-Fi with a commitment that it’ll continue to be included in the price of the fare. Behind the scenes, it opens the door to us making us more efficient through better flight planning and real-time itinerary management.”

Written by Peter Needham

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