The frustration of being disconnected from the internet on a long-haul flight could soon be a thing of the past for Australian travellers, with several local airlines planning to roll out in-flight Wi-Fi.
Qantas plans to have the technology installed by late February, and Virgin Airlines is expected to follow suit later in the year.
Australian carriers have been late adopters, with many international airlines having embraced connectivity in the sky for some time.
According to a recent analysis by Finder, about 18 per cent of international airlines already offer in-flight Wi-Fi including Emirates, Garuda, Air Asia and Singapore Airlines.
Qantas will be the first Australian airline to introduce the service, which allows passengers to access the internet on their own device.
From late February, those aboard Qantas’s first Wi-Fi enabled domestic Boeing 737, will be able to send email, browse the web, Facebook their friends and stream music and movies using their own laptop, tablet or phone.
In addition they’ll enjoy free access to Foxtel, Netflix and the premium, ad-free version of Spotify.
According to a Qantas media statement released February 15: “The rest of the airline’s fleet of domestic Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 aircraft will follow from mid-2017 onwards.”
The airline is also in talks with suppliers to extend Wi-Fi services onto its international and regional fleets pending it overcomes technical, performance and coverage challenges such as flying over large stretches of water.
How it works
Customers onboard will connect by logging onto the Qantas in-flight Wi-Fi landing page where’ll they find links to Netflix, Spotify, Foxtel, Sky News and flight, transport, hotel, weather, and other travel info.
Internet connectivity will be provided using ViaSat’s global satellite network and the National Broadband Network’s Sky Muster satellites, enabling connection speeds up to 10 times faster than conventional in-flight Wi-Fi, vital for streaming.
Can you call on your mobile?
According to Marcus Diamond, Safety and Technical Officer with the Australian Federation of Air Pilots, making calls isn’t likely to be on the horizon, with safety the main factor.
“If everybody in an airplane had their mobile phones on they could definitely interfere with electronics,” Mr Diamond says.
“It’s the same reason you’ve not supposed to use them around service stations. The microwave frequency that comes out of a mobile phone, while very low energy, can actually run down wires and sharp points of metal and spark.
“If you’ve got 200 of them on in an airplane there’s a potential for them to short out things or cause problems to quite delicate navigation systems.
“There were a couple of accidents they thought they could attribute to mobile phones putting out a signal in bulk in an airplane.”
Why is Wi-Fi safe?
Wi-Fi uses a different technology.
“It’s not as strong a signal because it’s in close proximity and not searching around for towers like your mobile does,” he explains.
Customers will be able to use their phones to access Wi-Fi but will be required to keep them in flight mode.
Why then do some international carriers allow passengers to make calls on their mobile phones?
Such services connect to a GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) network within the aircraft as opposed to a land-based telecommunications cell tower. This transmits at lower powers and is approved by aviation authorities.
Mobile phone calls could also be annoying to other passengers. No doubt, some of us would prefer to zone out in peace.