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.
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.