Qantas high-speed wi-fi trial proving popular with passengers

by Steve Creedy -editor
41
July 04, 2017

A second Qantas plane has been equipped with the airline’s new on-board wi-fi and up to eight more are being fitted out as encouraging trial results suggest a broader rollout in late September.

The airline currently has a single Boeing 737, VH-XZB, trialing the ViaSat system and says about 3500 people a week have been giving the free service a go.

The verdict so far, according a blog on the airline’s website, is good.

Just under a third of passengers are logging on at some stage during the flight, significantly higher than 5 per cent response the airline got when it tested a slower system on the A380 in 2012.

Qantas is expecting to far exceed the industry standard participation rate of about 10 per cent and see about 30 to 50 per cent of passengers log on because the system is free.

Technicians have been using the trail to fine tune the system and reliability is now sitting at about 98 per cent with fewer dropouts.

Download speeds have been routinely above 12 megabits per second, a result that has improved as the trail continues, which is more than enough to use streaming services such as Stan, Netflix and Spotify.

About 60 per cent of customers are using one or more services or apps and are visiting multiple websites.

“Overall customer satisfaction has been positive, with the latest survey figures showing 88 per cent of customers gave their Wi-Fi experience the thumbs up,’’ the airline said. “We hope to increase this as we keep making tweaks to the system.’’

Qantas expects is hoping to move from the trial phase to broader rollout in late September, once the system has been thoroughly tested.

The plan is to have 80 Boeing 737s and Airbus A330s fitted by late 2018, offering it to 15 million passengers a year.

Qantas has opted for a newer, high-capacity Ka system offered by ViaSat through nbn’s Sky Muster satellite. It offers speeds that are 10 times faster than conventional wi-fi.

Virgin Australia is also introducing on-board wi-fi but is using a rival system offered by in-flight connectivity specialist Gogo’s 2Ku technology connected through five Optus geostationary satellites, while

This battle between the two systems is already underway in the US where Gogo, used by Virgin partner Delta Air Lines, is the market leader and ViaSat the up and coming challenger.

Ku and Ka refer to wavelength classifications for the signals the technologies are using to communicate with the satellites. Ku uses longer wavelengths and a lower frequency and is an older technology.

Ku satellites historically have not had the bandwidth capacity of their Ka counterparts and the earlier Ku wi-fi system was relatively slow.

However,  Gogo boosted speeds by introducing a dual antenna — one for upload and one for download — with 2Ku and has claimed peak speeds of up to 100 megabits per second.