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Qantas to launch free inflight Internet for Australian flights

By David Flynn     Filed under: qantas, inflight internet, technology

Qantas will launch free inflight Internet access later this year ahead of a planned rollout across its domestic Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 fleet.

The satellite-based service will deliver true 'broadband above the clouds', the airline claims, and be capable of streaming "movies, TV shows, news bulletins and live sports" to passengers' smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Tests will begin towards the end of 2016 on a single Boeing 737, with upgrades slated for the remainder of the Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 fleet from early 2017.

In a radical break from the industry norm, Qantas will make its inflight Internet free to all travellers – a move aimed to keep customers, especially business and corporate travellers, from the grasp of challenger Virgin Australia.

Satellite services operated by several international airlines – among them American Airlines, Etihad Airways and Singapore Airlines – cost in the vicinity of A$17 for two hours or A$25 for four hours, or on a data basis around A$20 for 15MB or A$40 for 30MB.

The need for speed

Most people know the experience of sharing a home Internet connection among several members of the family (especially when a new season of Game of Thrones airs).

The scenario of hundreds of Qantas passengers hooking up to a single satellite connection – which, being free, has zero barrier to entry and maximum appeal for that "I'm on a plane!" Facebook post, Tweet or in-seat selfie – will put Qantas' promises to the test.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce told Australian Business Traveller that the speeds available inflight will be "four times what you can get on the ground", based on a conventional 'cable-type' connection.

"It's unbelievably exciting and a game-changer in terms of speed" he added.

"This doesn't just mean being able to check emails and Facebook... it means streaming your favourite TV show or movie from Sydney to Perth, or watching an entire cricket or rugby or football game in real time. It will be that fast."

So, how fast exactly?

Joyce declined to share the raw speeds but Qantas' partner ViaSat, which will manage the service, suggests "speeds that are up to 10 times faster than traditional global ground-based in-flight internet services" common in the USA, where ViaSat-equipped airlines can serve "speeds ranging from 12 to 20Mbps to each connected device."

By comparison, most home ADSL2+ connections max out around 10Mbps while older ADSL1 lines struggle to hit 8Mbps.

Even if the Qantas service can deliver only half of what ViaSat promises as its baseline, at 5Mbps, that's still sufficient for streaming Netflix content in HD.

Making sky-high WiFi work

Each of Qantas' Internet-capable aircraft will be fitted with a dual-band antenna tuned to the special 'Ka' and 'Ku' microwave bands respectively used by Australia's NBN Sky Muster satellites and ViaSat's own global satellite network.

This will allow aircraft to switch between the Sky Muster and ViaSat satellite networks to obtain the fastest available signal.

The first of two Sky Muster satellites was launched in October 2015 and will enter commercial service by mid-year, with a second bird to follow by the end of 2016.

Parked in a geostationary orbit 36,000 km above Australia, each satellite will blanket the continent and outlying territories with 101 highly-focussed 'spot beams' linked to a network of 10 ground stations.

While the NBN satellites are primarily designed to provide broadband Internet to Australia's remote communities access they are also available to aircraft fitted with small radome antenna.

Trials to include Skype, FaceTime

Qantas is also courting controversy by an early decision to allow passengers to make Internet-based phone calls during the trial, using apps such as Skype and FaceTime.

"The trial will see us testing FaceTime and Skype to see whether people find that acceptable or not," Joyce said.

"We will be asking passengers what they think and what they want, to formulate the rules before rollout to the rest of the fleet."

Joyce says that Qantas "will also be looking at options for our international and regional fleets" and flagged that the technology could also end up on Jetstar aircraft, although in keeping with that airline's low-cost nature passengers would be required to pay for Internet access.

Snoozing trumps surfing

It's generally accepted that there is a greater appetite for inflight Internet on domestic flights – especially on Australia's transcontinental routes – than international flights, especially since around half of Qantas' international serves involve an overnight leg to Australia, which sees minimal demand because most passengers would rather sleep than surf the Web.

In late 2012 Qantas scrapped plans for Internet access on its flagship Airbus A380 fleet, citing a lacklustre response from travellers across a nine-month trial on selected superjumbo routes where the uptake was less than than 5%.

AusBT review: Qantas' A380 in-flight wifi Internet trials

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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.

 

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1 on 23/2/16 by Jack

About Time! Very exciting

2 on 23/2/16 by moa999

Exciting indeed... I still have my doubts as to what happens if everyone on the plane wants to use streaming services - maybe enough capacity for 5 people (at 25Mbps) unless they are using multiple antennas

1 on 23/2/16 by deany83

Maybe they will allow you to pay for more of the bandwith if it is going to be a free service?

1 on 23/2/16 by Christopher

yes free

1 on 23/2/16 by kimshep

Qantas has stated that this will be a 'free' service on QF domestic flights and probably a chargeable service on Jetstar LCC services.

With the expense (and cost-recovery issues) involved, the real question here is whether ticket costs will rise, in order to cover this? That is what has not been stated.

To my mind, there would be some level of inequity if ticket prices rose for all passengers, since there would be a certain percentage of passengers that would not avail themselves of the facility on-board. It will be interesting to see which way this goes.

Kudos to QF for finally offering this - it certainly will prove to be a differentiation point between QF and it's domestic competitors.

2 on 24/2/16 by Jay

I'm certain Qantas has done sufficient research to warrant their CEO making that claim to the media!The claims of 10~20 Mbps PER DEVICE are ambitious compared to what we're used to... but what we are used to in Australia is fairly lacklustre and relatively archaic...

Our ways of delivering internet connectivity is starting to change very quickly... (Cast aside your frustrated memories of hooking up your ISP wifi modem under the desk & still struggling to watch YouTube on your laptop...)

If I can get 60Mbps in my living room via Telstra's 4GX mobile data (I was shocked), I can only imagine what a high-end commercial antennae setup hooking into NBN satellites will be like. Time will tell!

3 on 23/2/16 by GBRGB

This is what good profits bring , enhanced product and service, smart of Qantas to to throw some cash at investors and also increase product. This is the time I believe QF will wedge Virgin and increase  its market share. 

1 on 23/2/16 by Christopher

Yeah I totally agree. Free wifi is such a huge plus over virgin

2 on 23/2/16 by undertheradar

no doubt JB (VA) will be running to its parents(owners) begging for more (pocket) money to spend on more toys (internet), because the family (QF) down the street has it! lol

1 on 23/2/16 by Christopher

Very true

1 on 23/2/16 by AlexT

Parents: Do you homework first; then I might consider it. (Profits)

1 on 24/2/16 by lind26

I hope the service they offer is a 'clean feed' so that Parents don't have to worry about what the person next to their child is viewing.

4 on 23/2/16 by auspointer

Hi David

Just for clarity - is the WiFi available free just for the duration of the trial, or is QF planning to make it free as an ongoing basis after the trial?

1 on 23/2/16 by David

Free on an ongoing basis. Yes, I know – astoundingly ballsy!

5 on 23/2/16 by mrmaxwell

Did QF just start the free-inflight-internet movement?

I still remember the first time I checked into a hotel and they advised that wifi was free - I was in disbelief!

6 on 23/2/16 by Looking

So an Australian company, operating in the hospitality industry, is giving out free wi-fi? Awesome. 

Look forward to the first Ausbt post from the QF sky!

7 on 23/2/16 by Steve987

Internet - tick

Allowing people to use it for calls - massive cross.

I'll see how it goes, but sitting next to people on conference and social calls could be enough for a transition to VA.

1 on 24/2/16 by moecat

So you really think the bandwidth will be enough to make a phone call??

1 on 24/2/16 by Steve987

That's what their telling us...

 

"

Qantas is also courting controversy by an early decision to allow passengers to make Internet-based phone calls during the trial, using apps such as Skype and FaceTime.

"The trial will see us testing FaceTime and Skype to see whether people find that acceptable or not," Joyce said."

8 on 24/2/16 by UpUpAndAway

Just need to add the "Cone of Silience" for those important work calls via Skype and Viber.

1 on 24/2/16 by Steve987

Internet-enabled shoe phone?

9 on 24/2/16 by KateD

Internet - great.

Phone calls?   No.  No, no, no, no, no, no.   

1 on 24/2/16 by gumshoe

Just think of all the loud audio from video games and talking head singers blaring out can't wait. Then phone calls just what i need, ridiculous idea.

10 on 24/2/16 by flyOFTEN

Let's have a bit of a reality check here. If everyone or almost everyone onboard tries to connect, it will be very slow. Think the idea is Qantas are counting on, only a % of passengers will try & log on. Who wants to be online anyway, when you could be watching a movie ?

1 on 25/2/16 by kimshep

Whie we're on that reality check, SYD-MEL-SYD and SYD-BNE-SYD are QF's busiest routes. Both with a block time of around 75 mins. With take-off, meal / snack service, and 'put-away' time, there's not actually a lot of time for serious surfing on these routes - maybe answering a few emails or reviewing a proposal. I think this is what QF is taking into consideration.

Obviously, trans-cons to PER from SYD/MEL/BNE and ADL will be a different matter - but hey, both JetBlue and Southwest manage to get this work with full complements of passengers. The only limitataion I can possibly see is if the 2 NBN sattelites are insufficient to handle the loads of regional Australia and a number of aircraft accessing it's services. Given that the NBN satellite technology is only in early rollout, it will be more of a 'suck it and see' philosophy. But if the demand is there, I am sure that commercial entities such as QF and the media aggregators (among others) will let their experiences be known in order to press NBN Co.

QF won't want substandard service or frustrated (high-value) customers. This is generally the way the commercial world works. I expect it to be successful.

11 on 28/2/16 by BizTraveller

Internet in airplanes is inevitable it's just been a matter of time - like all technology enhancement there is of course the driving public force that makes these things happen so we can tweet, snapchat, email and surf at 40,000 feet - but let's not also forget a dark side to be dealt with too - good on QF for taking the plunge and I am sure we will be debating the good the bad and the ugly of these decisions in forums like this in the coming months. But the reality is that the Internet on planes is here to stay - I think they call this progress...

 

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