Monday, February 18, 2019
General Article

Why Wi-Fi at 35,000 feet is no longer a pipe dream

The one safe space away from constant online connectivity is being eradicated, to the joy of many who want to communicate, work and be entertained during their flights. The airspace is now being brought up to date, with airlines increasingly introducing Wi-Fi access.

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Prepared for Internet take-off.

At the start of 2019, Norwegian Airlines declared that passengers could connect to the Internet at their leisure during long-haul flights. By 2020, they hope that half of their 787 Dreamliners will be equipped. Norweigan already offers Wi-Fi on short-haul European flights and free wireless on their intercontinental flights. It’s a burgeoning trend, with Traveloka reporting that out of the 50 best airlines, only 10 don’t have Wi-Fi.

Voice calls are still prohibited by many airlines and is enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States, though others decide the ruling for themselves. For instance, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic both allow voice calls.

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VoIP is an excellent example of the increasing use of Internet services for convenient communications, with more individuals and businesses seeking out a wholesale VoIP provider https://www.idtexpress.com/blog/category/wholesale-voip/ to cut costs, improve efficiency and allow for remote working.

Making it possible

Getting an Internet signal all the way up past the clouds can be done in two ways. Firstly, mobile broadband towers on the ground can send signals upwards towards aircraft antennas. The plane will connect automatically to the nearest available tower, but ground obstacles can cause interference. Secondly, planes can connect to the nearest satellites to communicate signals in geostationary orbit, with Wi-Fi made available through a router onboard the plane.

At present, US airlines have more advanced infrastructure to provide more effective Wi-Fi coverage at 35,000 feet than those in Europe.

Travelling through time

Gogo delivered its first Wi-Fi service at 3Mbps on a Virgin Atlantic plane in 2008. There’s increasing experimentation with the use of ‘picocells’ as a form of small cell tower within aircrafts to avoid the use of ground-based towers and resulting interference, allowing calls to be routed in a similar fashion to VoIP calls – https://www.businessinsider.com/why-you-can-use-your-phone-on-planes-now-but-you-cant-make-calls-2018-11?r=US&IR=T.

At present, satellite connectivity for Wi-Fi averages 12Mbps, but development of technology and satellites is costly. Customers also typically pay extra to cover additional costs incurred by the airlines, while costs, speed and quality all vary between airlines.

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