Qantas has cancelled plans to debut its Qantas WiFi inflight Internet service this week, including a media launch and test flight of the service from 11am Monday 27 March.
The airline has cited 'stability issues' with the satellite-based service, in what is the second delay to a launch originally slated for the end of 2016 and then February 2017.
"We’ve been testing in-flight WiFi for several weeks and the performance has been strong" Qantas said in a statement issued to media this afternoon.
"We were preparing to open it up to media and customers this week as we continue our fine-tuning over the next few months, but some stability issues have emerged that we need to fix before customers can use it."
Any issues with the satellite-based service would be the last thing Qantas needed to happen during a test flight scheduled for 11am Monday which was to carry many members of Australia's technology media.
Qantas says it is "working with NBN and ViaSat to fix these issues very soon. We remain on-track for a broader roll out to the Qantas Domestic fleet from mid-2017.”
PREVIOUS | Get ready to stay connected above the clouds, with Qantas launching its Qantas WiFi inflight Internet service next week.
The airline will host a special invitation-only charter flight for media on Monday March 27 (flight number QF6160 and aircraft registration VH-XZB, if you must know), taking off at 11am for a two-hour preview of the satellite service before its switched on for all travellers.
A special guest on the flight will be Dr Terry Percival, who helped create today's WiFi standard at the CSIRO.
Qantas is also adding streaming service Stan as a content partner on the WiFi-equipped Boeing 737 alongside Foxtel, Netflix and Spotify, so there'll be plenty to choose from when you're up in the air.
That Boeing 737 will spend most of its time darting along popular east coast routes between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane as the sole WiFi-equipped plane in the Qantas fleet until the second half of the year, when it'll be joined by an Airbus A330 doing mainly east-west runs.
Qantas will then begin to roll out the same satellite technology to the rest of its domestic Airbus A330 and Boeing 737 fleet, although no decision has been made on similar upgrades for the regional Boeing 717, Fokker 100 and Bombardier Dash 8 jets of QantasLink.
Recent real-world tests of the Qantas WiFi system have delivered typical download speeds between 7Mbps and 12Mbps to each connected device, providing ample overhead for streaming HD video content.
The airline previously hoped to begin public access to the Boeing 737's inflight Internet in February, but said ongoing testing was necessary to reduce signal lag and buffering.
"It’s quite a technical thing to do when you are trying to maintain a constant, high-bandwidth connection with a satellite as you’re travelling at 900 kilometres per hour".
Australian Business Traveller will be on board Monday's media flight and (hopefully) live-blogging our own first-hand experience of Qantas WiFi.
PREVIOUS | Qantas will flick the switch on its free inflight Internet service next month as the airline begins 'technology trials' on a Boeing 737-800 jet.
Passengers stepping aboard the Boeing 737 on its domestic flights will be able to connect their laptop, tablet or smartphone to a WiFi hotspot and jump online for what Qantas promises will be a broadband experience good enough for streaming movies and live TV.
The upgraded Boeing 737 fitted with the 'Qantas Wi-Fi' service will be seen darting along popular east coast routes between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, with perhaps the odd east-west crossing (a 4+ hour journey where the ability to work online or just watch up with the latest Netflix show could come in very handy).
But before you ask: Qantas is unlikely to promote those 'sky-high WiFi' flights in advance due to the operational need to swap aircraft between routes (and with a fleet of some 75 Boeing 737s that leaves scope for a lot of swapping).
The Boeing 737 will connect to the NBN Co's pair of Sky Muster satellites which take all of Australia under their wing.
The Sky Muster birds pump out fast Ka-band signals which Qantas technology partner ViaSat says will deliver a 12Mbps pipeline to each connected device on the plane, ViaSat tells Fairfax Media.
That's about the same clip as the fastest ADSL2+ home or office Internet services, and more than twice what's needed to watch Netflix in high definition.
“The technology we’re using makes us confident that we’ll be able to provide a fast internet connection to passengers" a Qantas spokesman told Australian Business Traveller.
"It will be enough to comfortably stream video and given we’re offering it for free, we expect take-up to be strong”.
A domestic Airbus A330 jet will be wired up – or rather, unwired up – around the middle of the year and expand the trial the Australia's transcontinental trek as part of a nine-month "proof of concept" test which will run through to September.
Qantas' initial plans to launch the 'public passenger' phase of the trial in December 2016 were delayed due to an extended testing period for the technology.
The airline still intends to upgrade its entire domestic Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 fleets with the necessary technology, which includes a satellite antenna housed in a streamlined fibreglass radome on top of the fuselage, towards the rear of the aircraft.
Up next: international flights?
Expanding the inflight Internet service to international flights could follow, using ViaSat's global network to keep connected across the Tasman and en route to Asia, the Americas and Europe.
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%.