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Qantas inflight Internet is now available on selected domestic flights with average download speeds around 10-15Mbps on offer - and better yet, it’s completely free.
That’s fast enough to stream HD video such as Netflix, Stan, Foxtel and Fetch TV live to your seat at 35,000 feet, being as fast as your typical household ADSL2+ connection.
So is Qantas WiFi going to change the way we fly? Here’s our review.
Qantas WiFi takes to the skies
First things first: inflight Internet is currently available on one single Boeing 737-800 jet (VH-XZB) only as part of a ‘beta test’ for the next few months, which allows Qantas to “collect feedback and fine-tune the system” in its early stages.
Once those tests are completed, the airline will begin rolling out that tech across its fleet of domestic Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 jets from mid-year with completion by the end of 2018: so unless you’re on the one plane currently equipped, don’t expect to find WiFi on your next Qantas flight.
That jet is most often seen flying between Melbourne and Sydney but in the past fortnight has also served on flights to Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, the Gold Coast and Cairns.
You’ll know that WiFi is available on your flight by the presence of a large red logo aside the aircraft door as you step on board (below), while the cabin crew will also make announcements prior to take-off and screen a WiFi information video.
Getting connected to Qantas WiFi
Begin by setting your device to flight mode and then activating WiFi, which you can do while you’re waiting at the gate for your flight to depart.
There’s no waiting until your flight takes off before you can connect to WiFi, either: this service is available from gate to gate, so search for the ‘Qantas Free Wi-Fi’ network as soon as you’re on board and click to connect:
If your web browser doesn’t automatically take you to the login screen, head to wifi.qantas.com and key in your name and seat number when prompted. You can connect multiple devices simultaneously, too:
This portal is linked to the electronic passenger manifest, so if you try entering a name or seat number other than what’s indicated on your boarding pass, you’ll receive an error – but if you’re still having trouble, an option will eventually appear to ‘continue as (a) guest’:
From there, you’re online and ready to go! There’s no credit card number needed, or even an email address – you’ll instead be directed straight to the main WiFi portal where you can check on your flight’s details and its up-to-the-minute arrival time:
Ours was an invitation-only charter flight of around 75 passengers hosted by Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, taking off from Sydney Airport and returning two hours later – so with even the boarding pass not clear on the final destination, we can’t blame the WiFi system for confusing our location with Melbourne.
Most travellers would probably jump straight onto Netflix or open their email inbox, but while you’re in the WiFi portal, take a moment to open up ‘Qantas Flight View’.
It’s available when the aircraft is cruising above 10,000 feet and provides a moving 3D map which allows you to see what your plane is passing over. Points of interest are pinned, so you can click on them to reveal more information.
Qantas WiFi: speed and performance
Australian Business Traveller conducted many speed tests throughout the flight including while waiting the at the gate, during take-off and when cruising: and for the most part, speeds were very impressive.
Download speeds ranged between 5.55Mbps and 19.51Mbps, with one burst up to 33.95Mbps - so we'd consider around 10Mbps per device to be a decent ballpark, and that's certainly sufficient for streaming video.
Upload speeds were predictably less stellar: that's the nature of this type of service, which is geared more to downloading content (web pages, emails and file attachments, streaming music and video).
The best upload speed we clocked while in the air was a mere 0.62Mbps, although while on the ground we hit a whopping 65.54Mbps. The lesson here: if you've been polishing off a large PowerPoint deck in the lounge, take advantage of those ten or so minutes after boarding your flight but before it takes off to email that presentation to your colleagues or upload it to a cloud service.
Ping speeds - a measure of the time it takes a piece of data to get from your device to its online destination (such as Facebook) and back again - were around the 1200ms mark.
This means that particularly during web browsing, there’s a slight delay from the time you plug in a web address until the time it appears on your screen, regardless of the speed of the actual connection.
Testing by fellow passenger Drew Theunissen revealed that data is currently sent from the aircraft to the satellite, back to the ground in Australia, over to the United States, back to Australia, back to the satellite and the back to the plane, so if your website takes a few seconds longer than normal to load, be patient!
Drew's tests also showed that a number of corporate VPNs, both within Australia and those overseas, worked just as they would on the ground, as did Citrix.
We also took the opportunity to fire up Netflix to trial proper video streaming, and while Qantas’ WiFi system deliberately increases the ‘buffer’ time when you first start watching a movie or TV show to reduce the chance of disruption, the content played flawlessly once it started.
The same can be said of Stan – so if you’re hooked on Billions and spy a new episode on the playlist, just click and view as you would on the ground.
We also whipped out our iPhone to give Sky News a whirl on Foxtel Go and found the playback to be smooth and clear.
That said, the Internet connection itself dropped out several times during our flight, which we’re told currently happens when the aircraft is switching from one connection ‘beam’ on the satellite to another.
This is one of the things that Qantas is working to improve during the ‘beta’ trial, so that once WiFi is rolled out across the fleet, the experience will be much more seamless.
Tips for using Qantas WiFi
To help keep access speeds usable for everybody on board, some activities and connections are blocked on the Qantas WiFi service.
Most notably, downloads from app stores such as the Apple Store and Google Play are blocked, so if you’re planning to use services like Netflix, Stan or Spotify during the flight, you’ll need to download these apps using your own connection before take-off.
This also applies to other data-hungry downloads such as Windows Update, while voice and video calling are also prohibited and our (testing) attempt at a FaceTime video call showed the service to be blocked.
Text- and picture-based messaging services like Apple iMessage, Facebook Messenger and Wickr work as normal, however, so remember to set your phone to vibrate or silent.
As goes without saying, ‘adult content’ is off-limits.
Qantas WiFi: the verdict
Inflight Internet is nothing new to me, so the concept alone no longer ‘wows’ me.
Over the last few years I've surfed the Web aboard a dozen different airlines, but until now, the recurring theme has been that the connection may work for basic tasks, but is often woefully inadequate for things like downloading large files or streaming HD video.
And that’s where Qantas’ WiFi is different – it’s designed with these tasks in mind and built with the speed to match, and soon, the stability to run from gate to gate without interruption.
So whether you need to send a mid-flight email or are just kicking back with Netflix, Qantas WiFi has you covered, and should prove even more reliable by the time you get to try it.
Chris Chamberlin travelled on Qantas' WiFi test flight as a guest of Qantas.