Virgin Australia, Qantas to start WiFi streaming to smartphones, tablets, laptops

By David Flynn, August 9 2013
Virgin Australia, Qantas to start WiFi streaming to smartphones, tablets, laptops

Virgin Australia has begun broadcasting movies, TV shows and music directly to passengers' own smartphones, tablets and laptops, with Qantas soon to follow.

Both airlines already offer WiFi 'streaming' of inflight entertainment to tablets handed out on board – Qantas uses iPads, while Virgin Australia settled on Samsung's Galaxy Tab series – but the new system makes the same programming available to almost any device a traveller may have in their carry-on bags.

Virgin is first off the mark for beaming to these BYO devices, with the airline spokeswoman confirming to Australian Business Traveller that "following a successful trial, we are now rolling it out across selected aircraft on our domestic and short-haul international fleet."

A Qantas spokeswoman told Australian Business Traveller that the airline is aiming to extend its Q Streaming platform to "iPads, iPhones and laptops" around the third quarter of this year.

More on Q Streaming: AusBT's full video and review of the first trial system plus a deeper dive into the technology itself.

Virgin WiFi streaming takes wing

It's estimated that more than a dozen of Virgin's Boeing 737-800 jets are alreadycwired, or rather unwired.

The airline intends to extend the system to the larger part of its domestic Boeing 737 and Embraer E190 fleet by year's end, and will next year appear on the Airbus A330s of Virgin's transcontinental Coast to Coast service.

"Obviously we're going to do the aircraft without IFE first" Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti has previously explained to Australian Business Traveller "and then the last aircraft to be done will be the 330s. Although they've got a very good (IFE) system in place, for product consistency we want to make sure they too have the WiFi."

Upgrading each aircraft with the necessary hardware, including a content server and a handful of wifi hotspots, is a relatively quick task, Borghetti says.

"When the aircraft's parked at night you do the work, and within two or three nights you've done an aeroplane. So effectively you can move very quickly and do the whole fleet... within 12 to 18 months."

The apps you need...

Up for grabs are some 300 hours of movies, television shows and music – as long as your favourite piece of travel tech is running the necessary software before you get on the plane.

For that reason, we suggest that all Virgin Australia travellers grab their gear and load up the apps ahead of their next flight.

Virgin offers free apps for Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple iPad and Android-powered phones and tablets.

Note that it's not enough just to install the app: you also have to activate it over an Internet connection before you can tune into the streaming WiFi signal on board.

The apps also include 'offboard' information about Virgin Australia, the airports and destinations it serves.

Want to tune in your larger-screen laptop? Windows and Apple notebooks must be running Microsoft's Silverlight software.

This may already be installed on your laptop: you can check using Virgin's Wireless In-Flight Entertainment System Check web page, which will also help you download the software with a single click of a big red button.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

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.


Air New Zealand - Airpoints

24 Jun 2013

Total posts 5

Gosh I hope they get rid of their horrible 'Dig-E-Players' on the NZ flights.. Would actually enjoy flying the VA to NZ if they offered the above !

14 Nov 2011

Total posts 11

Yippeee! But I won't be holding my breath about this marketing promotion for Virgin yet. I asked how they were going with their IFE system in November 2011, when their newly fitted out planes had arrived sans any IFE, this was the reply.

"In-Flight Entertainment is still in the works, it is most likely going to be the new red system version 2 when released, but we dont know yet. It will be here soon"

So by the time they have their fleets fitted it will have been 2 years. Fortunately for Virgin, Qantas have dragged their feet on this roll out as well, so the race to the finish line is on. Lets wait and see before we start congatulating them for a job well done.

I'm guessing that one of the main reasons for the delay from both parties was that this wifi technology is still in its infancy.

Firstly, two years ago this technology would probably only be in the design phase with the manufacturers.

Secondly, the amount of approvals and testing that would be required to broadcast wifi on board with a first of it's kind setup, and to completely go against the regulatory grain and allow passengers to have personal devices  online (particularly for take-off/landing) would be monumental. 

Given the ever growing percentage of passengers carrying smartphones, ipads, laptops etc, I don't think many people would disagree that the overall benefits of this style of IFE far outweigh moving to an in seat model (cost/speed of install, weight saving, greater reliability, no bulky boxes under seats etc). 

I think given that both airlines are some of the first in the world to offer this service, the hurdles they'd have to have crossed justify a 2 year turnaround from design/manufacturer to approval and installation.

But as you say, the proof will be in the pudding. As a relatively frequent traveller, i'm looking forward to testing it out.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

31 Jan 2012

Total posts 107

Im  not sure if it is the airlines delaying the roll out or that the actual technology itself isnt ready/stable. Im sure neither airline would want to introduce IFE that was half baked. If neither airline has meet its deadline and the planes are fitted with the technology I would say its the stability of the IFE and not a delay for the airlines.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1379

I laughed with the comment that the A330 has good IFE.

In my coast-coast flights I am 1 for 4 on the new planes, my most recent flight (a few days ago on XFB (or XFBroken) had 3 business seats with out of order on them (mechanism), another few where IFE didn't work, and I overheard an ecnonomy announcement that IFE was working sporadically and to shift seats after takeoff if IFE wasn't working.


ourladyair - I suspect Virgin 738s will never get inseat entertainment, will just be this WiFi streaming and BYO device.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

10 Jan 2012

Total posts 260

Flew to MEL on the weekend, both planes had WIFI operational. Flight to MEL it was not announced (perhaps the crew didn't know it was on?). Planes were VH-YIR & YIG.

The content is varied and there is a lot to choose from, but nothing really interested me other than the moving map. What amused/baffled me was the amount of people asking for assistance at the gate, and onboard, about how to download the app.

12 Aug 2013

Total posts 1

come on VA, the  current offering on  those two ex-EK A330's is a disgrace. 15 channels on a loop with half of them not working and the system frequently dropping out  does nothing for your passengers and the inability to do anything about it is appaling.seriously are there not executives in some meeting room at VA HQ that dont understand that poor IFE is not going to keep paying customers happy?? JB fix it!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards Plantium

19 Jun 2013

Total posts 119

I am flying tomorrow with Virgin - and got an email today to say the WiFi service will be available on that flight (of course, subject to change of plane).  Downloaded app for tablet, phone and ensured could run this from my laptop.  David mentioned in his article that "activate it over an Internet connection before you can tune into the streaming WiFi signal on board."  Does this mean just try and run the app (and get the message that can not find xxxx or is there something I am missing.

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