Qatar Airways to offer free superfast WiFi

The Gulf carrier will connect its entire fleet with the innovative Starlink micro-satellite network.

By David Flynn, May 30 2024
Qatar Airways to offer free superfast WiFi

Qatar Airways is joining the push to free inflight Internet, abandoning its current paid plans which can cost up to US$20 for a mere 200MB of data.

Before the year is out, the Oneworld member (and Virgin Australia partner) will offer unlimited superfast WiFi to every passenger on selected long-range Boeing 777 jets, with most of the fleet following “over the next two years.”

That said, there appears to be a caveat: Qatar Airways promises that sweeping upgrade will apply to “the entire modern fleet” – and with the A380s already in their final years, after being bought out of pre-mature retirement, we suspect this means the superjumbos will miss out, but have approached Qatar Airways for clarification.

QR’s new inflight WiFi will be powered by Starlink – the communications satellite arm of Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture.

Unlike conventional satellites which can be parked as high as 36,000km, Starlink satellites whizz around the planet in a ‘low Earth orbit’ of 550km, making for faster signal turnaround.

They’re also much smaller than regular satellites, so the Starlink network is a constellation of over 2,100 ‘micro-satellites’ which the planet in 90 to 120 minutes.

Hawaiian Airlines is already using Starlink on its single-aisle Airbus A321 jets – with the longer-range A330s and Boeing 787s to follow from this year – and passengers report download speeds from 100Mbps to as high as 300Mbps.

That’s at least 20x faster that most airline WiFi systems, where speeds of 5Mbps tend to be welcomed, so we’re talking about real broadband above the clouds, and indeed quicker than many home Internet connections.

Qatar Airways says its Starlink tech will deliver “up to 500Mbps per plane” – and while an average of 300 passengers across its A350, 777 and 787 would break this down to barely 2Mbps per passenger, in practice there’s never a point in the flight where everyone is online at the same time, let alone all actively using the connection for downloads.

And it’s on that basis that Qatar Airways has promised “passengers will be able to enjoy ultra-fast WiFi speeds of up to 350Mbps.”

But we’d settle for 100Mbps or even 50Mbps, which is still more than sufficient for video streaming and, given Starlink’s low latency, a bit of casual online gaming.

The airline is also promising a simple ‘one-click-access’ procedure to log on, and we’re hopeful this will also mean its inflight WiFi can be used across multiple devices, with passengers seamlessly hopping from smartphone to laptop to tablet, rather than having to log out from one device before logging back in on another.

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