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British Airways is finally rolling out inflight WiFi on its long-range jets, building on trials launched as far back as February 2014 as it plays catch-up to many competitors that have been offering WiFi for several years.
We recently had a chance to test BA's WiFi service on board a Boeing 747-400 flying from London Heathrow to New York’s JFK airport – a key transatlantic route for business travellers.
That jumbo was fitted with the latest 2Ku broadband satellite technology from Gogo Internet, which is the same system being used by Virgin Australia.
Getting online is easy: just connect to the aircraft's WiFi hotspot and your device should take you to the login screen. If this doesn’t work, try going to a website without a secure URL (for example, http://www.google.com) and you'll automatically be redirected.
Passengers can to choose between two speeds. The Simply Connect tier is aimed at basic usage such as Web browsing, email and social media, while the premium Connect Plus package allows video streaming such as Netflix and, in the future, live TV channels.
One hour of the basic Simply Connect tier costs £4.99, with four hours at £10.99 and a 'flight pass' to stay online for the length of your entire journey priced at £14.99.
One hour of the faster Connect Plus service costs £7.99; four hours, £17.99; and a flight pass, £23.99.
We signed up to the Connect Plus tier to see how BA's promise of broadband in the sky held up.
(Note that we were supplied with a voucher to use this service which is why no charge appears on the screen above.)
A visit to Speedtest.net yielded the results shown below, with the solid download rate of 12.5Mbps being in the dame range as a fast home ADSL broadband connection.
Upload speeds are often the laggard for inflight WiFi, and so it was here with just 0.43Mbps – less than half a MB.
In actual usage we found the service to be quite zippy, but not without its flaws.
While scrolling through Facebook, for example, videos in the feed stream began playing smoothly within a couple of seconds, although for some reason Netflix wouldn’t load. YouTube clips at lower resolutions of 360p and 480p loaded and played reasonably fast.
Upload speeds were disappointing, on the other hand. Trying to send a 20MB zip file of images to our cloud storage system – a task which should have taken less than 10 minutes at the above 0.43Mbps rate – ran so slow that even after 20 minutes the file transfer was less than a third of the way through.
Overall, British Airways' inflight internet service has the same advantages and drawbacks as all other services that use the same technology. General Web browsing is fast and streaming video seems to work well in most cases, but you should leave the really content-heavy tasks for when you get back on the ground.
Sid Raja travelled as a guest of British Airways