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Virgin Australia's new inflight Internet service is now available on selected domestic flights, with typical download speeds of 15-20Mbps on tap - and during the trial period, it's completely free for all passengers.
Those speeds are on-par (if not even a little faster) than your average ADSL2+ Internet connection on the ground, being swift enough to stream HD video over the WiFi: whether that's live sports via the Foxtel Go app or your favourite movies and TV shows from Netflix and Stan.
So what can Virgin Australia's inflight WiFi bring to your next business trip or holiday? Australian Business Traveller flew from Brisbane to Sydney, onward to Melbourne and then back to Brisbane on a WiFi-equipped plane to find out!
Virgin Australia inflight Internet takes wing
Before you prep for a sky-high Netflix marathon, know that Virgin Australia's inflight Internet is currently available only aboard a single Boeing 737-800 aircraft (registration VH-YIG, for those interested), so your chances of snagging this bird are pretty slim.
Over the past week, the jet has mostly been flying around the east coast between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, but with occasional jaunts to Canberra, Perth, Darwin, Hobart, Newcastle, Townsville and the Gold Coast, plus one visit to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea (although coverage is only available in Australian airspace).
The technology will be trialled on this plane alone for three months – during which, access is free for all – with Virgin Australia's remaining fleet of Boeing 737, Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 aircraft kitted out between the second half of the year and mid-2018.
You'll know your flight has WiFi available by the presence of a large information card in the seat pocket...
... while the cabin crew also make an announcement after take-off.
Getting connected to Virgin Australia's inflight WiFi
Internet access is currently enabled after the last aircraft door has been closed, so once the crew make an announcement to switch your device to flight mode, that's your cue to activate WiFi.
(Virgin Australia tells us that following the trial period, Internet will be available from the moment boarding begins: but for now, passengers just need to wait until push-back.)
Once you're moving back from the gate, simply connect to the ‘VirginAustralia’ hotspot. This is the same network as used for Virgin Australia's streaming inflight entertainment.
Your web browser should open automatically, but if it doesn't, head to airborne.gogoinflight.com:
From there, just type the security code that appears in the box...
... and you're all set:
If this code doesn’t appear properly, such as happened with our iPhone...
... try clicking ‘Visually Impaired?’ to solve an easy maths problem instead, such as 3+6 (and if you're playing at home, the answer is 9):
Virgin Australia inflight Internet: speed and performance
Across our WiFi-enabled flights, Australian Business Traveller ran a series of Internet speed tests including while on the ground at the gate (after the final aircraft door had been closed), during taxi and take-off, while cruising and when coming back in to land, and found that the service achieved similar speeds during all phases of the flight.
Download speeds generally ranged from 5.61Mbps to 23.91Mbps (including in the air), with the occasional peak of 28Mbps and a momentary drop to 1.58Mbps – so on average, the speed was fast enough for tasks like HD video streaming and downloading large email attachments.
Upload speeds were mixed, being between 0.17Mbps and 6.44Mbps, but certainly not as fast as downloads.
That doesn't mean you can't do things like send emails with attachments, post photos on social media or send picture-based chat messages via apps like Facebook Messenger and iMessage: it'll just take you longer than downloading the same amount of data to your device.
Ping speeds sat around the 550-600ms mark: being how long it takes for a fragment of data to leave your device, reach its destination and return back again (such as the lag between entering a web address and the page starting to load), which is quite reasonable of inflight WiFi.
On a test-by-test basis, here's what we measured on our early morning Brisbane-Sydney flight, separated as downloads (Mbps), uploads (also Mbps) and ping speeds (in ms)...
... and here's how the connection fared on the Sydney-Melbourne flight that followed...
... and then on our final flight of the day from Melbourne to Brisbane:
But most travellers care less about the megabits and more about usability, particularly when it comes to more data-intensive tasks like video streaming and accessing corporate VPNs.
We continued our tests by firing up Netflix, and found that although it took a little longer to 'click over' to HD than we'd usually experience on the ground, the content itself played without issue:
The same proved true of streaming service Stan where HD streaming was again achievable...
... while live and catch-up TV via the Foxtel Go app also worked as expected – where you can catch Australian Business Traveller on Sky News Business Channel's weekly Business Class show:
For good measure, we also fired up the competing Fetch TV app and found its own library of live channels including CNN and BBC News were crisp and clear after the first 10-20 seconds of playback, particularly appreciated when reading those scrolling news bars:
You'll need your own subscription to access these services, of course, but the portal also unlocks exclusive deals with Netflix, Stan and Pandora, including three months of free access to each:
Better yet, existing Netflix customers can receive a three-month extension to their ongoing paid subscription just by clicking the Netflix logo, accessing their Netflix account and selecting ‘apply gift' (thanks, Netflix/Virgin Australia!):
We were also able to connect to a secure VPN: a must-have of many corporate travellers…
… and had no issue logging onto the WiFi using our smartphone and tablet simultaneously: a big plus for travellers who may be working on a laptop or tablet but need to send a quick message via their smartphone.
Virgin Australia inflight Internet: usage tips, and our verdict
Being a brand new service, Virgin Australia's trial currently has no content filtering or blocking in place – for now, at least – with passengers merely 'requested' not to make inflight voice calls during the trial.
That means you're free to install new apps, run Windows Update and back-up data to the cloud, but as there's no kid-safe filter in use, parents should supervise their child's browsing carefully.
But for adults – and particularly business travellers – this new inflight Internet service makes it easy to keep in touch with the office or loved ones back home, and after a solid day's work, currently provides enough speed for a good Netflix binge: and that's all you could really ask for when flying at 900km/hr!
Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of Virgin Australia.