Qantas to launch high-speed international WiFi by 2021

By David Flynn, June 4 2018
Qantas to launch high-speed international WiFi by 2021

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.

Read the Australian Business Traveller review of Qantas WiFi


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

24 Apr 2018

Total posts 14

Given that you can already store loads of streaming content offline, and the airline also has IFE, should the in flight WiFi not be mostly aimed at staying touch or sending fairly light documents?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 714

Exactly right at this stage. In the future, 5 or so years away we might start to see streaming on a plane but currently, the bandwidth, especially over oceans, isn't there.

Netflix for example already has a local cache platform called "Netflix Open Connect". ISP's install Netflix hard drives and servers within their networks to avoid having to use more expensive transit routes to provide the same episode to each customer.

In theory, Airlines like Qantas should be working with Netflix and other streaming services to make it small and light enough to install on each aircraft similar to what ISP's have done on the ground.

Currently, satellite bandwidth is paid for by Mbps so you'd think every less stream would be better for both the airlines and the other passenger who aren't streaming.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Aug 2014

Total posts 217

Why would Qantas install Netflix hard drives, instead of expanding their own IFE hard drives. Seems quite redundant.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1393

On many airlines at the moment (eg Emirates) you can barely open a webpage, let alone stream a movie.

Think it's a reasonable decision to wait.

I wonder though if they pre-wired the 787s for internal Wifi, even if the external antenna has to wait

05 May 2016

Total posts 631

The thing is though that airlines spending the kind of money they'd need to would want to not do it again for a long, long time.

If QF put in the old technology now and didn't put the new technology in in a timely manner they'd be in a bad position against competitors who did.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 688

… sort of like the 'bad' position they are in now, with US competitors having WiFi and QF having none?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Dec 2017

Total posts 23

Sounds like spin to me

They (allegedly) already have WiFi on 737s - I fly several times a month and have seen it once.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1393

Which uses the relatively new NBN SkyMuster Ka band satellites which are focussed on the Australian landmass.

Most of Qantas's international routes (particularly to US and Europe) fly over oceans - and in general satellites aren't focussed on oceans.

You have to love the Qantas propaganda. Years behind other airlines and they spew out this rubbish to justify it.


11 Jul 2014

Total posts 776

I really haven’t seen any airline do good (not great) wi-fi, easier just to have pre downloaded data and movies

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2014

Total posts 22

I use the Wi-Fi on Japan airlines several times a year and it works fine for what I need: email, web browsing etc. I don't need to stream anything, whatever I need is either already on screen or already in my laptop. The Wi-Fi on JAL works so well, with only the occasional drop out due to being in remote areas (although those dropouts can last for 15 or 20 minutes which might infuriating streaming customers) and although I now understand from Mr Joyce that JAL will have to spend a lot refitting their aircraft in three or four years time, from my point of view I will have had three or four years of great in their browsing experience.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jun 2017

Total posts 33

More justification why I’m letting my platinum one lapse and switching airlines. 17 hours to London with no ability to email is rubbish. There has to be a reasonable middle ground where people can use wifi to connect on email for example without having to wait until 2021!! The planes are packed full of decent movies or as everyone comments, bring your own.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Mar 2017

Total posts 31

Oh the irony! Joyce reckons he doesn't want a sub-standard product in relation to onboard WIFI, yet he doesn't seem to mind being sub-standard with most of his other hard and soft products on board! As a result of a recent article on China Airlines in this publication, I'm flying with them on 18 June return to LGW in business class. They recently emailed me and offered me totally free WIFI for the entire journey, and according to others, their WIFI is pretty good. But is Joyce really serious that QF pax have to wait another three years to have onboard WIFI - under the guise of current offerings not being good enough. As usual, Qantas is well behind the 8-ball again, and they dress it up as something else.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 688

Yes OBI, the Joyce comment 'we've tried it before' is sort of laughable, in context. If I recall correctly, that would have been the one A380-800 fitted in 2012 (used on routes to the USA) with a short period of time as a free service and then bumped up to a horrendously chargeable one that customers routinely eschewed in droves due to cost. It's easy to go from 'worst to first' but a real challenge to go from innovative to worst.

It is valid to cite 'experience' (provided it is current or recent) - quite another to cite 6 year old experience when the technology changes so quickly.

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Qantas to launch high-speed international WiFi by 2021