Passengers on most Qantas flights to and from Singapore, Bali, Jakarta and Manila can now enjoy fast free WiFi – but there’s a catch, with the WiFi available only during those parts of the flight which are over Australia.
That’s because unlike most airlines, Qantas isn’t using a global satellite system with worldwide coverage.
Instead, Qantas is still relying on the same two NBN Sky Muster satellites which power Qantas’ domestic WiFi service, and the Sky Muster footprint is focussed on Australia.
This means while your international flight is above Australia you can expect WiFi to the same standard as most domestic Qantas flights; but once your plane leaves the Australian coastline behind, you can also wave goodbye to WiFi.
As frequent flyers can attest, “we’re still in Australia” is often a large portion of the journey to Asia.
For example, on the daily flight QF81 from Sydney to Singapore almost half of the eight-hour trip is spent over Australia.
And if you’re flying from Sydney or Melbourne to Bali, two-thirds of the trip falls within Qantas’ Australian WiFi coverage zone.
There’s another caveat before you can get connected above the clouds: your flight must be on a WiFi-enabled Qantas Boeing 737 or Airbus A330-200 domestic jet. This rules out the Airbus A380 and longer-range A330-300s, as well as the Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Here are the initial overseas routes for Qantas WiFi on international flights:
- Sydney-Denpasar (Bali)
- Melbourne-Denpasar (Bali)
- Brisbane-Port Moresby
(Routes where the aircraft don’t spend as much time within the Sky Muster satellite’s coverage zone – such as to New Zealand – have understandably been left off the list.)
You can expect the cabin crew to make an announcement is WiFi is available on your flight, and if so, you can even begin using it while the aircraft is on the ground all the way until it moves beyond satellite coverage.
So what’s the WiFi experience like on this handful of popular Qantas international flights?
It’s exactly the same as you’re already enjoying on domestic Qantas Boeing 737 and A330-200 flights, because it uses exactly the same system.
Connect to the Qantas Free Wi-Fi hotspot on your laptop, tablet or phone and click the big red Connect button.
After watching a short video advertisement, you’re online.
We happily clocked download speeds around 10-15Mbps: that’s more than enough for streaming video or music, let along basic email and Web browsing, and much faster than what’s currently available on the global satellite-based network of most airlines
(Things are different when you’re using a ground-based network, as is commonly the case in North America for example.)
Upload speeds for Qantas WiFi tend to be clipped around the 1Mbps mark, so file uploads and heavy cloud computing access will need some patience.
Qantas also offers complimentary access to The Australian and The Monthly plus a free 7-day trial offer for the Paramount+ streaming service.
Up next: global ‘broadband in the sky’
So when will Qantas roll out worldwide WiFi coverage to keep you connected from start to finish on almost any international flight?
That’s now expected in 2025, as the airline has committed to fast and free WiFi for every passenger on its Project Sunrise A350 during their non-stop marathons to London and New York.
Qantas will rely on the new high-speed ViaSat-3 network, which uses three advanced satellites to blanket the globe.
The first launched in May 2023 to blanket the Americas, although Qantas will have to wait until the final Australia-Pacific bird is launched in late 2024 to complete the ViaSat-3 constellation and offer a global footprint.
However, the airline says it might be in a position to roll out WiFi earlier to other aircraft in its long-range fleet.
“The plan is that the A350s will have WiFi, but the plan is that we will also retrofit our A380s, A330s and 787s” Qantas CEO-in-waiting Vanessa Hudson told Executive Traveller in February this year in her role as Chief Financial Officer.
Hudson said it was “very probable” the ViaSat-3 WiFi could make its debut on flights ahead of the A350, with the airline soon to begin drawing up its “retrofit program.”
Then-CEO Alan Joyce cautioned these upgrades would of course mean that aircraft would be taken out of service, at a time when the airline was aiming to boost capacity to the fullest “so we just need to work through that.”
Staying in touch on Project Sunrise flights
Joyce has previously described ViaSat’s fast Ka-band satellite technology to Executive Traveller as being “perfect for Project Sunrise.”
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” – and 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 claims the ViaSat-3 system will deliver “a minimum 10-15 megabits per second” to every passenger’s smartphone, tablet or laptop – even if they’re got multiple devices.
The company already has an Australian connection in place, with a Telstra fibre-optic network providing a high-speed and high-capacity gateway for the satellite signals.