Qantas isn't rushing to launch inflight Internet on its overseas routes but expects to first offer connectivity on domestic routes within Australia and is closely watching developments by Telstra and the National Broadband Network.
“Connectivity has been part of our strategic pipeline for a very long time” says Kylie Morris, Qantas’ Head of Creative Development and Customer Experience, "but there is more demand on domestic flights than international [flights]."
Several airlines – among them Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways, Garuda and JAL – offer sky-high surfing to passengers on flights into and out of Australia.
Emirates has gone so far as to make inflight Internet effectively free, with 10MB of data at no cost and the next 600MB for just $1.
Qantas trialled inflight Internet on selected Airbus A380 routes for nine months in 2012 but according to Morris “the uptake was less than 5%” for the satellite-based service.
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Part of the challenge, Morris says, is that half of Qantas’ international flights tend to overnight services to Australia “where there is very little demand because our customers want to sleep.”
“There's more uptake on daylight sectors than night, but holistically the demand isn't there” Morris tells Australian Business Traveller.
“In terms of where do we invest to create the greatest value, it’s more in our food and service and entertainment than connectivity.”
Morris has no doubt that “the time will come” when Qantas will offer Inflight Internet, “but the time is not right now.”
“We’re continuing to look at it, we know it’s important to our customers” she stresses, but acknowledges that even on the domestic front it remains a tough nut to crack due to the lack of ground stations compared to the USA, while satellite options are slower and more expensive.
Base station vs satellite
Morris cited the coming wave of Ka-band satellites as the type of technology which could reliably deliver broadband above the clouds, but says "there needs to be a lot more technology investment to actually make it worth our while and to make sure that we can meet our customers’ expectations."
Telstra has been trialling a 4G system capable of delivering broadband speeds to domestic flights, with four dedicated mobile sites covering most of the commercial air corridor between Sydney and Melbourne.
During tests the system was able to reach peak speeds to the aircraft of 15Mbps, with an average throughput around 10Mbps – equivalent to a mid-range home or office ADSL2+ connection.
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