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Hands-on review: Qantas' A380 in-flight wifi Internet trials

By David Flynn     Filed under: qantas, inflight internet, in-flight internet

With Qantas beginning public trials of in-flight Internet on daily Airbus A380 flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles, Australian Business Traveller brings you a hands-on review of the service during the "preliminary testing" period.

Each of six Airbus A380s has been fitted with satellite Internet provided through OnAir and is believed to be dotted with a half-dozen wifi hotspots.

During this first phase of the trial the service is available only to travellers in first class and business class to indulge in a little sky-high surfing on the Red Roo's dime.

Each of those passengers receives an access code for the wireless access points, which are otherwise blocked to the hoi polloi in premium economy and economy.

How Qantas' in-flight wifi works...

AusBT reader and Platinum frequent flyer Andrew Hazelton travelled in business class on the QF107 Sydney to Los Angeles A380 service on February 29 and was provided with a promotional code which gave him 35MB to use for the duration of the flight.

"You then go to a login page that allows you to create a username and login" Hazelton told AusBT. "This was good because you could then use multiple devices with the one code."

"I used all of my 35MB, which surprised the Qantas rep – but to be honest, a few Twitter checks on my iPhone, a few emails on my laptop, a check of Facebook and a bit of chat burned through that data allowance quite quickly."

Nobody expects in-flight Internet to be 'fast' by any measure, especially in an early testing phase before the system in rolled out to more users on the plane.

Hazelton said it was "fine for Facebook chat and allowed reasonable downloads for emails on the iPhone and laptop", although with speed tests of 0.11MB/s download and 0.08MB/s upload "it was very slow. This service would obviously not be ideal for people looking to surf the Net with graphic-intensive content."

OnAir spokesman Aurelie Branchereau-Giles told Australian Business Traveller that "the bandwidth available will typically support 12 simultaneous users (and) our experience with in-service customers suggests that this is more than sufficient even for an A380."

Several pricing models being considered...

Last year a Qantas spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller that the service will be offered free of charge at the start of the trial, before introducing a range of pay-to-surf packages to test uptake.

"Initially when we launch the trial it will be free, then there will be a period with several paid packages so we can get an indication of the demand at different price points" she said.

"We're working through the details of those packages at the moment, and once the trial is finished we'll be setting the cost based on that."

Australian Business Traveller understands that one model being considered is to sell time-based packages of Internet access, so that users would for example pay for access starting with 30 minute blocks.

First class and business class passengers would receive complimentary Internet access, either for the duration of the flight or by way of being given a set amount of online time or data for free.

Hazelton also believes that Qantas may provide a data limit to first class and business class customers for free, but charge passengers in other cabins.

A survey on in-flight Internet was handed out during the flight, which touched on the topic of pricing.

"My rough guess is that they may charge $25 for the service" Hazelton predicts. "From the survey I completed that looked around the price point they are considering."

"If you were waiting for an extremely important email while up in the air, the service would be invaluable – and for someone that important the cost would be irrelevant."

Elsewhere in the skies

Last year saw Emirates roll out the in-flight Internet carpet to passengers on its fleet of Airbus A380s, with prices ranging from US$7.50 to US$25 (read our report for full details).

Cathay Pacific is also planning to get its passengers connected, with trials due by the middle of this year.

And Singapore Airlines, while remaining coy on details so far, is also tipped to announce its plans in the coming months.

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About David Flynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

 

Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 3/3/12 by am

Flying through LAX to SYD on tonight's QF11, so will definitely check it out and let you know what I think!!

2 on 4/3/12 by petriojala

I tried Norwegian's in-flight internet a few weeks ago, it's a norwegian low-cost airline that operates across the Nordic countries.  We flew the 3.5 hour flight from Helsinki, Finland to Rome, Italy, and back.

The service was free of charge and uncapped.  We used just our phones and the iPad but overall the experience was excellent.  The on-board system was trying to outsmart the users but from the speed tests I think the download rates were typically between 1 and 2 Mbit/s, and upload 1/5 - 1/10th of that (bursty).

All the usual interweb activities, browsing through newspapers, discussion forums, various iPad apps, Facebook, uploading photos, etc. worked very well.  A bit like spotty 3G access (if a good 3G access is equivalent to fixed broadband).

Norwegian uses Row 44's technology, using Intelsat Ku satellites in Europe.

Overall it made the 3.5 hour flight much more bearable -- on the way to Italy we didn't even watch any movies or TV series on the iPad.  I could pay up to 15e/flight for the service but would think twice if it was capped to some extraordinary low amount of data.

I believe Norwegian is getting people hooked on the service before adding a price tag on it -- and getting experience what the actual costs to them are. They currently have ~20+ planes with it, 40+ by end of the year.

3 on 5/3/12 by spentan

hey, isnt qf107 a 747 service? did you mean qf11?

1 on 5/3/12 by David

Our reader was on QF107, which at times is swapped from a Boeing 747 to an Airbus A380.

1 on 5/3/12 by spentan

ah ok no worries.

i'm flying on qf93 this saturday, so hopefully with my J points upgrade, I'll be able to use it

1 on 6/3/12 by David

Cool - good luck, and if you do get to use it, please share the details with us!

4 on 5/3/12 by airtraveladdict

35 megabytes?! I can't even check my emails with that allowance.

Emirates offers 100MB and i thought that was little bandwidth.

I guess this is just the beginning, in a few years, 1GB will probably become the norm.

 

5 on 6/3/13 by jesse

I remember making a skype call from a Singapore Airlines flight between Adelaide and Singapore using a Boeing Wi-Fi system back in 2007. It was super fast. I don't understand the new excitement about a 35 MB download limit and other restrictions on services only being trialled five years later. 

 

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