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Qantas plans to offer inflight WiFi on its overseas flights by 2021 using the same high-speed technology as its domestic jets.
The broadband satellite system is expected to appear on the ultra-long range Airbus or Boeing 'Project Sunrise' jets which will fly non-stop from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York – with those 18-20 hour marathons being ideally suited to a Netflix binge-fest.
But why the wait? The current international satellite technology simply isn’t good enough, says Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, because it runs on the older and slower Ku band compared to the newer, zippier Ka band.
"The (Ku band) product is terrible, we think, and we've tried it” Joyce said on the sidelines of the IATA aviation summit in Sydney today.
"You can't have everybody in the aircraft (online at once) and you certainly can't have everybody streaming" due to the relatively narrow satellite bandwidth which has to be shared across all passengers.
However, an international network of superspeed Ka band satellites is just around the corner in the shape of the ViaSat-3 system, which will be launched from 2019 and operated by the same satellite technology partner as Qantas' domestic WiFi system.
The constellation will consist of three satellites will be launched, each taking a different part of the globe under its wing.
"Our region is the last to be covered and we're thinking probably (by) 2020-2021, perfect for Project Sunrise," Joyce forecasts. "Those aircraft will come, we believe, with high-speed Ka which everybody can have access to."
Qantas chose not to fit its international fleet with Ku band kit today 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."
Qantas currently provides fast and free WiFi on its over half of its workhorse Boeing 737 fleet, with a dozen domestic Airbus A330s to follow from later this month.
Travellers are enjoying speeds of 10-15Mbps, which is proving more than sufficient for streaming HD video content above the clouds.