Qantas international WiFi moves a step closer

This year’s launch of the first ViaSat-3 satellite will deliver ‘broadband above the clouds’ for overseas flights.

By David Flynn, June 16 2022
Qantas international WiFi moves a step closer

While most domestic Qantas flights boast WiFi that’s fast and free, the airline’s international routes continue to put travellers ‘off the grid’ – whether they like it or not.

That’s due to change in the next few years, and certainly by the time its non-stop Project Sunrise flights to London and New York take off at the end of 2025.

After all, 18-20 hours is an ideal slab of time to indulge in some broadband-powered ‘binge viewing’ on your favourite streaming service.

Satellite communications company Viasat – Qantas’ technology partner for its domestic WiFi service – plans to have its global ViaSat-3 network fully operational by mid-2024, delivering “a minimum 10-15 megabits per second” to every passenger’s smartphone, tablet or laptop – even if they’re got multiple devices.

The ViaSat-3 constellation will consist of three satellites, each one covering one-third of the planet.

“The first one, ViaSat-3A, covers North and South America and will be launched in the back part of this year, to go into service at the beginning of next year,” says Don Buchman, Vista’s VP and GM of Commercial Aviation.

“The second one, 3B, is for Europe, the Middle East and part of Asia, that’s launched in the middle of 2023,” Buchman tells Executive Traveller.

“The third, ViaSat-3C, is for Asia and the Pacific including Australia” and is slated for launch six at the end of 2023, “with entry into service three to six months (after) launch date,” Buchman says.

The trio of ViaSat-3 satellites will blanket the Earth.
The trio of ViaSat-3 satellites will blanket the Earth.

While each satellite can of course be used on its own, the global network will be most appealing to airlines – especially Qantas, which had previously pinned its hopes on ViaSat’s fast Ka-band satellite technology as being “perfect for Project Sunrise,” Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce told Executive Traveller in mid-2018, when the ViaSat-3 network was on the horizon for a 2021 launch.

Qantas opted not to fit its international Airbus A330, A380 and Boeing 787 fleet with significantly slower Ku- band kit because “we don’t want a sub-standard product,” Joyce said, and then once the ViaSat-3 birds were in the air “we’d have to rip it out and put on new antennas (and) new equipment.”

“The (Ku band) product is terrible, we think, and we’ve tried it” Joyce reflected, adding that “you certainly can't have everybody streaming” content at the same time due to the relatively narrow satellite bandwidth which has to be shared across all passengers.

ViaSat-3 already has an Australian connection in place, Buchman explains, with a Telstra fibre-optic network providing a high-speed and high-capacity gateway for the satellite signals.

“All the data that feeds in Australia will go through a Telstra fibre network,” Buchman says.

So how fast will those ViaSat-3 signals be on board a Qantas jet?

“If Qantas chooses us, you’ll get that same experience on any international flight that you get today domestically, of 10-15 megabits per second minimum, and actually much faster.”

That’s a steady clip above the WiFi speeds of most international airline, which typically sit in the low single digits.

However, Viasat doesn’t have the skies to itself.

Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite network of over 2,100 ‘micro-satellites’ in low Earth orbit continues to spread its wings, with Hawaiian Airlines planning to add Starlink WiFi to its forthcoming Boeing 787 Dreamliners, along with Airbus A330 and A321neo jets.

Vice President of Starlink Commercial Sales Jonathan Hofeller told Executive Traveller he was “definitely keen” to talk with Qantas.

 

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1102

QF claims they are waiting to the superior Ka band is available which is a fair argument.  An equally fair argument is that this has meant QF is about a decade behind its competition who will also quite happily adopt Ka in 2025 after having 10 years valued service from their Ku band equipment.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1387

Given the delays in ViaSat3, think Qantas really needs to reassess.

StarLink is far superior in terms of potential speed and definitely in latency, as anyone who has switched from NBN Sat (itself Ka band) to StarLink will recognise.

Qantas risks getting locked into a quickly outdated product.

Somewhat funnily, SpaceX looks like it will launch the first ViaSat3 satellite as well.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Jun 2019

Total posts 11

The Qantas PR department with another press release which only goes to highlight - again - how far behind other carriers they are....

Meanwhile, award flights being cancelled by clueless staff in offsure call centres, airport service being further reduced with no ability to print boarding passes and cabin crew sleeping in aisles on unsuitable international planes....... 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Jun 2022

Total posts 3

It would seem QF are pedalling backward as an airline in all market segments. 7 of my past 8 sectors flown have either been cancelled or delayed. WiFi will become the least of their concerns if they start losing market share as a consequence of poor service up time due to a severe shortage of resources.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Sep 2013

Total posts 15

ViaSat-3C (APAC) is booked on an Ariane 6 launcher (which doesn’t exist yet). The first flight of this rocket just slipped - again - and now isn’t due until “some time in 2023”, plus they’re not the first customer (they’re launch #3, assuming all goes well with #1 and #2).

ViaSat-3A and -3B are launching on Falcon Heavy and Atlas V rockets, which are flight proven and unlikely to have schedule delays. They’re covering the Americas and EMEA, much higher revenue opportunities.

There is little spare capacity in the commercial launch market right now, and further delays on Ariane 6 are likely, so my best guess is that they might have -3C launched and their network fully functional in time for Project Sunrise.

Certainly another case of Qantas holding out for the Rolls Royce option and letting their competitors have the market to themselves in the meantime (see also: Project Sunrise).

Reg
Reg

American Airlines - AAdvantage

20 Jun 2012

Total posts 26

Reeves35, a good point. Had great connectivity on many international flights over several recent years, notably free from Qatar and Etihad. QR will stay ahead of the game as will other serious carriers.

19 Apr 2013

Total posts 10

I find the QF domestic wifi so painful now. Spend the whole flight trying to connect and reconnect. 

21 Apr 2017

Total posts 38

“…due to change in the next few years…”. Hmm think I’ll stick with other carriers for at least that long. Qantas remains essentially a domestic operation with very little apparent ambition internationally other than headline grabbing initiatives such as Sunrise on its tiny Sydney centric network. 

04 Sep 2019

Total posts 30

Used wifi on my singapore airlines flight for the entire 2 flights (8 and 13hrs) was perfect for browsing the internet and social media

Qantas so terribly outdated on every front.

I am happy to hear its ceo could buy a 15million$ pad in mosman but, even thou he is a terrible ceo for his customers.


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