With Qantas beginning public trials of in-flight Internet on daily Airbus A380 flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles, Australian Business Traveller brings you a hands-on review of the service during the "preliminary testing" period.
Each of six Airbus A380s has been fitted with satellite Internet provided through OnAir and is believed to be dotted with a half-dozen wifi hotspots.
During this first phase of the trial the service is available only to travellers in first class and business class to indulge in a little sky-high surfing on the Red Roo's dime.
Each of those passengers receives an access code for the wireless access points, which are otherwise blocked to the hoi polloi in premium economy and economy.
How Qantas' in-flight wifi works...
AusBT reader and Platinum frequent flyer Andrew Hazelton travelled in business class on the QF107 Sydney to Los Angeles A380 service on February 29 and was provided with a promotional code which gave him 35MB to use for the duration of the flight.
"You then go to a login page that allows you to create a username and login" Hazelton told AusBT. "This was good because you could then use multiple devices with the one code."
"I used all of my 35MB, which surprised the Qantas rep – but to be honest, a few Twitter checks on my iPhone, a few emails on my laptop, a check of Facebook and a bit of chat burned through that data allowance quite quickly."
Nobody expects in-flight Internet to be 'fast' by any measure, especially in an early testing phase before the system in rolled out to more users on the plane.
Hazelton said it was "fine for Facebook chat and allowed reasonable downloads for emails on the iPhone and laptop", although with speed tests of 0.11MB/s download and 0.08MB/s upload "it was very slow. This service would obviously not be ideal for people looking to surf the Net with graphic-intensive content."
OnAir spokesman Aurelie Branchereau-Giles told Australian Business Traveller that "the bandwidth available will typically support 12 simultaneous users (and) our experience with in-service customers suggests that this is more than sufficient even for an A380."
Several pricing models being considered...
Last year a Qantas spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller that the service will be offered free of charge at the start of the trial, before introducing a range of pay-to-surf packages to test uptake.
"Initially when we launch the trial it will be free, then there will be a period with several paid packages so we can get an indication of the demand at different price points" she said.
"We're working through the details of those packages at the moment, and once the trial is finished we'll be setting the cost based on that."
Australian Business Traveller understands that one model being considered is to sell time-based packages of Internet access, so that users would for example pay for access starting with 30 minute blocks.
First class and business class passengers would receive complimentary Internet access, either for the duration of the flight or by way of being given a set amount of online time or data for free.
Hazelton also believes that Qantas may provide a data limit to first class and business class customers for free, but charge passengers in other cabins.
A survey on in-flight Internet was handed out during the flight, which touched on the topic of pricing.
"My rough guess is that they may charge $25 for the service" Hazelton predicts. "From the survey I completed that looked around the price point they are considering."
"If you were waiting for an extremely important email while up in the air, the service would be invaluable – and for someone that important the cost would be irrelevant."
Elsewhere in the skies
Last year saw Emirates roll out the in-flight Internet carpet to passengers on its fleet of Airbus A380s, with prices ranging from US$7.50 to US$25 (read our report for full details).
Cathay Pacific is also planning to get its passengers connected, with trials due by the middle of this year.
And Singapore Airlines, while remaining coy on details so far, is also tipped to announce its plans in the coming months.