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Virgin Australia has pushed back on the introduction of paid WiFi on domestic flights, with 'faster-for-a-fee' connections now not expected to kick off until February 2018.
The airline previously said it would begin charging passengers for a high-speed WiFi service as January 1, 2018,
However, a spokesperson for Virgin Australia now tells Australian Business Traveller "we won’t be going live with the commercial model on our domestic fleet until early next year."
This means that travellers on the handful of Virgin's Boeing 737 jets fitted with the Gogo 2Ku satellite Internet tech will still be able to enjoy free connections of around 15-20Mbps on domestic flights for another month or two.
Once Virgin's two-tier pricing model goes live, passengers will be able to tap into a basic or Standard connection for free, or paid for a High Speed service.
PREVIOUS | Virgin Australia will pull down the shutters on its free trial of inflight Internet at the end of this month as the airline begins to charge passengers for its high-speed WiFi service.
A spokesperson for Virgin Australia has confirmed to Australian Business Traveller that as of January 1 2018, Internet access on its domestic Boeing 737 jets will shift to a two-tier 'premium' model of Standard and High Speed services,
Travellers will be able to enjoy a Standard connection – sufficient for Web browsing, email, social media and messaging – free of charge.
The High Speed option, which allows video streaming and other data-intensive services, will come with a price tag which Virgin has yet to reveal, but is expected to do so in the coming week.
That price will keep you connected for the entire flight – which means we could see a relatively modest fee for quick jaunts such as Sydney-Melbourne but a more substantial sticker for Sydney-Perth.
Here's what else Virgin hasn't yet revealed about its 2018 WiFi plans.
How fast the High Speed connection will be: Virgin's inflight Internet service currently delivers typical download speeds of 15-20Mbps, based on our review.
All of that may be on tap for passengers who pony up the yet-to-be-shared fee, although you could comfortably stream HD video with 10Mbps to each device – and with 10Mbps being the average speed of an Aussie broadband connection (according to the Akamai State of the Internet Report), we'd suggest 10-15MBps would be sufficient for most high flyers.
How slow the Standard Connection will be: this is more the crux of the matter – not how fast the WiFi will be you pay, but how slow it'll be if you don't pay.
We expect Virgin Australia will put the brakes on per-device speeds to bring a free connection down to something under 5Mbps, and perhaps as little as 3Mbps – which sounds like "beggar's broadband" but is still usable for basic online activities such as the Web, email and social media.
If there'll be a monthly pass: beyond whatever price tag is attached to the High Speed packages for the duration of each flight, we're hoping that Virgin will also offer a monthly pass for frequent flyers.
The airline's Internet provider Gogo already has this set up for domestic US carriers at a flat US$50 per month on American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines or Vigin America.
However, Virgin doesn't need to rush this one.
The airline will have just three of its 78 Boeing 737-800 jets running WiFi by the end of this year – although it expects to reach the halfway mark around the middle of 2018.
"We'll be fitting one Boeing 737 aircraft (with WiFi) every eight days until the end of March 2018, and after that one aircraft will be completed every four days," a Virgin Australia spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller.
"The majority of our Boeing 737 aircraft are expected to be completed by the end of 2018, with only a handful to be completed in January 2019."
The twin-aisle Airbus A330s most often seen on east-west flights will get their WiFi upgrade from late 2018 through to early 2020.
At odds with Virgin's two-speed strategy, Qantas will continue to keep its own inflight Internet free for all passengers.
Initial tests pegged average download speeds for the Qantas WiFi service at 10-15Mbps, however Qantas says the updated ‘Generation 2’ technology now being fitted to its Boeing 737s will boost connection speeds as well as reliability compared to the Gen1 system of its first WiFi jet.
International flights and WiFi fares
Barring any hardware hiccups, two of Virgin’s five Boeing 777-300ER jets will offer Internet on flights between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Los Angeles by the end of December, initially in a free ‘public trial’ mode.
Sometime in early 2018 Virgin is expected to introduce its Standard and High Speed plans on those Australia-US flights, although both plans will come with a price tag.
Those prices will be discounted to an 'introductory special' rate until all five Boeing 777s are upgraded by May 2018, at which time the full pricing will kick in.
Virgin's Trans-Tasman Boeing 737s running between Australia and New Zealand – as well as those to Fiji and Bali – will be WiFi-equipped from early 2018, with pricing based on the length of the flight.