Qantas to start free inflight Internet trials on Friday April 7

Qantas to start free inflight Internet trials on Friday April 7

Qantas will flick the switch on its free inflight Internet service on Friday April 7 as challenger Virgin Australia readies a similar launch of its own sky-high WiFi technology later this month.

The Qantas WiFi trials will take place on a Boeing 737-800 jet (aircraft registration VH-XZB, if you must know) which will mostly dart 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).

Passengers stepping aboard the Boeing 737 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.

But before you ask: Qantas is unlikely to promote this first batch of '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).

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, and subsequently pushed back on a planned media launch in late March, due to "stability issues" with the satellite-based service.

"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" the airline said.

The airline is deliberately positioning this three-month trail as a 'beta test' for travellers to assess traffic loads and other real-world factors before locking down the Qantas WiFi spec for installation across the rest of its domestic fleet.

How Qantas WiFi will work

Qantas WiFi jets will connect to the NBN Co's pair of Sky Muster satellites which take all of Australia under their wing.

Each SkyMuster satellite blankets Australia with 101 'spot beams'

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.

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 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.

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%.

David Flynn

David Flynn (David)

[email protected] / @djsflynn

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.
 

33 Comments

  • Serg

    Serg

    18 Jan, 2017 11:52 am

    Free and with ADSL speed? I love it! Curiosity though - will they block any services like SKYPE?
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    Bellthorpe

  • Bellthorpe

    Bellthorpe

    19 Jan, 2017 02:47 am

    Skype? God, I hope not ...
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  • mviy

    mviy

    18 Jan, 2017 12:14 pm

    One article said it would be limited to 20Mbps for the entire plane during the trial. If true speeds won't be great.

    12Mbps per device would be fantastic (it that's dedicated per device).

    I do like being able to switch off when on a plane though.
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  • Dave

    Grannular

    18 Jan, 2017 12:38 pm

    I read this as well. Would be good for clarification
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  • AJW

    AJW

    18 Jan, 2017 02:55 pm

    Read elsewhere it is 12mb/s dedicated per device.

    But not really sure how it is possible. The whole satellite has total capacity of 80gb/s, there are two satellites so that is enough to provide 13,000 people with 12mb/s. 

    But that also includes people on the ground too.
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  • ajobbins

    ajobbins

    18 Jan, 2017 01:30 pm

    12mbit per passenger?? That would mean around 2Gbps connection to the plane was needed for a QF B738 - I thought the Ku2 band Satellite technology maxed out around 70Mbit?

    Are they sure it's not 12Mbit per aircraft??
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  • ajobbins

    ajobbins

    18 Jan, 2017 01:43 pm

    Hmmm, it's KA they are using no KU - but still I think that's only 100mbit or so to the plane. So you don't get many users streaming nextflix on a busy flight to saturate that. 
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  • David Flynn

    David

    18 Jan, 2017 02:00 pm

    From SMH: ViaSat exec says "ViaSat has provided Qantas a 12 megabits per second [Mbps] service level agreement to each connected device on the plane."
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  • ajobbins

    ajobbins

    18 Jan, 2017 02:04 pm

    Considering SYD<>MEL is the 4th busiest air route in the world and only a 700km trip, I'm surprised they didn't do ground based in flight connectivity a while ago - surely the business case would have stacked up for business travelers wanting connectivity - I would have paid a nominal amount (Say $10-15 per flight) for that.
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  • Mal

    Mal

    18 Jan, 2017 02:21 pm

    Telstra trialled ground-based 4G a few years ago, there's a story on AusBT about it, but while speeds were 10-15Mbps there were two reasons it wasn't rolled out.
    1. Actual window in which it could be used during flight was 60 minutes, not many people willing to pay just for an hour of being connected when they have smartphones they can switch on as soon as they land.
    2. Cost of outfitting aircraft would be high but those aircraft could only be used on the SYD-MEL route, but airlines juggle many aircraft around the network so even just outfitting a bunch as their special SYD-MEL subfleet wouldn't really work.
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  • tronixstuff

    tronixstuff

    18 Jan, 2017 02:49 pm

    Ground-based connectivity is often used. More often than not the tool next to me is sending SMSs during flight.
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  • AL0126

    AL0126

    18 Jan, 2017 02:18 pm

    Another call for clarification. 12 or 20 Mbps for the whole plane would be absolute rubbish - maybe two or three users might be able to stream video, any more and it's only good for loading websites or texting (and it will probably slow to a crawl once 20+ users attempt to use it simultaneously even for text-related reasons).

    12 Mbps for every user on the plane is another matter, but that is certainly a bold and dangerous claim to be making, considering the B737 being wired up for this service (VH-XZB according to the SMH) has 174 seats. You'd need 2.088 Gbps to service every single seat, assuming everybody was streaming at 12 Mbps at the same time and only using a single device. An SLA would mean they'd need to guarantee this 12 Mbps to each user, which honestly just doesn't sound right. Normally there will be a certain contention ratio as we've seen with other airlines, and with NBN only giving ground customers 25 Mbps, I doubt they would spare much more than that to one plane, let alone several in the future across QF and VA.

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  • Bob Burgess

    Bob Burgess

    18 Jan, 2017 02:43 pm

    I hope Qantas finds some way to promote the Qantas WiFi plane so people can book on it. It would have been good if the one they upgraded was the RetroRoo, that way you'd know at a glance if you were going to be on the plane with Internet access.
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  • daschok

    daschok

    18 Jan, 2017 03:13 pm

    We already know it's VH-XZB. You can look here to see where the plane is so you'd know: https://www.flightradar24.com/data/aircraft/vh-xzb
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  • Bob Burgess

    Bob Burgess

    18 Jan, 2017 03:38 pm

    Yes but that's not quite the same thing as looking out the window of the lounge for example and knowing you're on RetroRoo, most people don't bother with looking at or chasing registration numbers.
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  • traveller99

    traveller99

    18 Jan, 2017 03:18 pm

    "In late 2012 Qantas scrapped plans for Internet access on its flagship Airbus A380 fleet"

    This was because the pricing was ridiculous.  It was, and I kid you not, about $5 for 1MB and about $15 for 10MB.  Yes 1MB and 10MB.

    It is no wonder there was no interest.
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  • qickdraw

    qickdraw

    18 Jan, 2017 04:03 pm

    The promise is indeed for 12MB to each pax - but that is caveated by an estimation of the average number of pax expected to be using the service, as the onboard modem simply cannot handle 12MB to every single seat.
    It's the same basic contract KPIs that Viasat agreed with Finnair (among others) and speaks more to their confidence in getting the satellite bandwidth more than anything. That's going to be the real area of interest as the NBN services roll out on Skymuster1. With all Ka bandwidth from that satellite being prioritized for NBN customers, it will be interesting to see how they maintain that KPI as they roll back to Ku around the same time as the demand for the service ramps up...
    Member who gave thanks

    David

  • Bellthorpe

    Bellthorpe

    19 Jan, 2017 02:48 am

    "caveated"? When did "caveat" become a verb?
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  • qickdraw

    qickdraw

    19 Jan, 2017 09:50 am

    Never, but as the contract is already signed it then becomes appropriate to use the past tense suffix -ed. I suppose my actual error was in using 'is' instead of 'was'...
    :-)
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  • Longreach

    Longreach

    21 Jan, 2017 02:16 pm

    It is in fact a verb-form in Latin, and that's good enough for me.
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  • thisispete

    thisispete

    18 Jan, 2017 04:05 pm

    Interesting.

    QANTAS customers getting access to the NBN (albeit via Satellite) before most of Australia.
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  • petercr

    petercr

    18 Jan, 2017 04:14 pm

    Saw -XZB parked at gate 7 at T3 in Sydney on Sunday afternoon and noticed the large hump up top... It's about 40cm high by about 1.5m long. Should have taken a photo... 
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  • Dee Thom

    Dee Thom

    18 Jan, 2017 04:43 pm

    I presume that connection is free for all pax, economy included, not just J pax.
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  • bagpuss

    bagpuss

    18 Jan, 2017 06:35 pm

    I wouldnt get your hopes up.
    Who I work for have Sky Muster in regional areas and it's not what it's cracked up to be.
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  • brad2k

    brad2k

    18 Jan, 2017 07:59 pm

    "…most passengers would rather sleep than surf the Web."

    Uh, what? Most economy passengers would love to sleep on 14-hour flights, but many cannot manage more than a few hours, so there's a significant amount of time where people would happily browse the Web.

    United offers Wi-Fi on almost all of their flights; even though it's slow, I see tons of people wiling the time away, if only on WhatsApp.
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  • UpUpAndAway

    UpUpAndAway

    19 Jan, 2017 07:49 am

    I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, people skyping while I'm taking a nap?, streaming movies is a positive, checking emails is a positive, maybe Qantas can have a quite end of the plane and a noisey end.
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  • PunditShafton

    PunditShafton

    19 Jan, 2017 09:56 pm

    I will be all caught up with Narcos and House of Cards :)
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  • Alex Moris

    Alex Moris

    20 Jan, 2017 08:04 am

    Really?! Qantas seem to think this a revolutionary invention they are introducing, when in fact Emirates, Qatar, Etihad all the true premium airlines have offered inflight WIFI for years. As always QF is behind the eight ball.
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  • Jon

    walaj

    23 Jan, 2017 09:48 am

    There is a big difference between the ViaSat and SITAonair (used by emirates) services. The proposition and bandwidth are very different.
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  • kimshep

    kimshep

    21 Mar, 2017 11:26 am

    Let's not forget across the Pacific - UA, AA and DL already offer this as well. And yes, this 'revolutionary' QF option on international will - in all probability - take another 2 years to be fitted to the A380's to LAX and/or DFW.
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  • Markspark

    Markspark

    5 Apr, 2017 05:58 pm

    What a stupid comment. Qantas is one of the most innovative airlines in the world 
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  • Steve987

    Steve987

    21 Jan, 2017 09:15 am

    The first time I sit next to someone having a Skype call is also going to be the first time I seriously consider VA!

    Surely they will block it?
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  • Jon

    walaj

    23 Jan, 2017 09:44 am

    The tech used by ViaSat allows each connection to share the available bandwidth, so if there is enough capacity every device can have 12mbps. If there isn't, various options are available to shape users - tiered plans, first class priority, application shaping/blocking etc. the main issue to handle is the latency - Skype calls could be poor not because of the bandwidth but the delays in the conversation. Netflix works well apparently.
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  • UpUpAndAway

    UpUpAndAway

    20 Mar, 2017 02:21 pm

    I wonder if a VPN will work?
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  • gumshoe

    gumshoe

    20 Mar, 2017 04:54 pm

    Does this mean I'll now be able to hear passengers streaming loud video games and talking on Skype gee I'll look forward to that.
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  • fallingflat

    fallingflat

    20 Mar, 2017 06:44 pm

    given there's nothing stopping customers from playing loud noises from their devices without wifi, i can't see how wifi will change this.
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  • UpUpAndAway

    UpUpAndAway

    25 Mar, 2017 05:42 pm

    Qantas is working with the NBN Co, I have never seen anyone work successfully with the NBN Co.
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  • superflyer

    superflyer

    25 Mar, 2017 10:48 pm

    Erm, what were they doing all last year during the testing phase?
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  • DeepAvThroat

    DeepAvThroat

    26 Mar, 2017 06:21 pm

    Interesting that the staff test flight in Feb was judged a smashing success, 7-12MBps per device, but some hiccup has developed to make QF push back the launch and especially the media flight with only a few days notice. Fault-finding can be a b*tch!
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  • Brett Segal

    NQflyer

    26 Mar, 2017 07:07 pm

    The wifi internet was on my flight today between SYD and BNE but it wasn't working!! 
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  • undertheradar

    undertheradar
    Banned

    27 Mar, 2017 02:20 pm

    that's interesting. since wifi still isn't available to the general public. 
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  • Ryan Connolly

    Ryan Connolly

    26 Mar, 2017 07:41 pm

    Can't blame QF for this, as much as some people here seem to like to do. Tech issues abound in today's world, QF techs need time to get this sorted or the 'launch' will be a laughable failure and QF will get panned big-time by media. Kudos for doing it right, QF.
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  • bl812

    bl812

    27 Mar, 2017 12:33 pm

    cyber world-5 years ago you hardly had a decent mobile phone and now everyone wants a wi-fi coming out their own backsides-get a life!-the future will be that all gadgets will be banned from flights anyway so why bother??
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  • Viscount2

    Viscount2

    5 Apr, 2017 12:05 pm

    Gee, and any idea when Armageddon coming. :)
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  • Brett Segal

    NQflyer

    27 Mar, 2017 02:44 pm

    Undertheradar - the flight crew announced it on departure that they were the trial aircraft and to try it out. No-one could even find the wifi network.
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  • mb68

    mb68

    27 Mar, 2017 04:05 pm

    Even Vietnam Airlines 787 product is looking better...
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  • NM

    NM

    5 Apr, 2017 01:31 pm

    I had heard from an NBN contact that Qantas will only have access to the residual bandwidth - meaning the on ground satellite services will run at a priority to the planes.

    So as more and more ground satellite services come online, there will be less for the planes??
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  • Dave

    Grannular

    5 Apr, 2017 03:25 pm

    This wouldn't surprise me at all. The purpose of the satellites is to service NBN customers. If Qantas started getting priority bandwidth over NBN customers, it would be a shit storm. blah blah my tax dollars this and my tax dollars that.  
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  • markpk

    markpk

    5 Apr, 2017 07:49 pm

    Qantas is a customer of the NBN, so stating that they are using satellites at the expense of NBN is not technically correct. 

    Re the NBN, go and have a read of their charter you will note they are bringing broadband services (via cable and satellite) to customers - not specifically rural customers
    Member who gave thanks

    David

  • OzMattyD

    OzMattyD

    5 Apr, 2017 03:38 pm

    The Sky Muster satellites have 74gb of bandwidth, and there are two of them. I know that the Qantas staff trial gave them 7-12mb/s, but I am guessing they weren't all running at that throughput all the time.

    I used the A380 trial product a few times, my feedback was that it wasn't fast enough to be useful, and that there were areas where the service had to be switched off (some countries don't let aircraft do internet access)
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  • Lawrence Kenyon

    LawrenceD

    5 Apr, 2017 04:07 pm

    Crikey...the last place I can hide for 4 hours from the boss and the Mrs has now gone....
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  • Markspark

    Markspark

    5 Apr, 2017 05:09 pm

    Wow! Qantas seriously can't win. They are testing in order to provide an excellent and fast product AT NO CHARGE! All you are doing is shooting down something before you have even tried it. The technology has only just arrived to allow this degree of inflight connectivity in Australia and QF are pushing hard to get it to market. They should be applauded and encouraged to take new things to market so that we can judge as customers. The armchair experts who shoot down our national airline should fly domestically in Europe or the US to be reminded just how good Qantas are, on every level. Save your judgement for when you've actually used it. Good on you Qantas and good luck with the beta testing. 
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    David, paclarke, Dexter

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18 Nov, 2017 08:02 am

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