Qantas introduces free inflight Wi-Fi to their Boeing 737

Almost every business traveller I speak with enjoys the isolation of flying. It's a rare haven of downtime, of 'me' time, in our hyperconnected world.

But that's about to change as Qantas begins public trials of its new inflight Internet service from next month.

A single Boeing 737-800 – one of 75 in the airline's domestic workhorse fleet – has been fitted out with the necessary satellite technology to keep passengers connected above the clouds.

The 'Qantas WiFi' Boeing 737 will spend the majority of its time zipping along popular east coast routes between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Hook up to a hotspot

Travellers who happen to be flying on this jet will be able to log onto a hotspot with their smartphone, tablet or laptop, just as they might do at a cafe or hotel.

In the middle of the year Qantas plans to extend the trials to an Airbus A330 which will mostly fly on the east-west route: a 4-5 hour journey where many business travellers will appreciate the ability to be online for this sizeable slab of their working day.

Late to the table

Qantas is admittedly late to pull up a chair at the inflight Internet table: fully a dozen international airlines already provide sky-high Wi-Fi on their Australian flights.

But Australia's unique 'tyranny of distance' – and the sparsity of population across most of the continent – meant there was no real solution for domestic flights until the NBN Co launched its Sky Muster satellites.

The high-tech tin cans blanket Australia with 101 tightly-focussed spot beams which Qantas will use to game-changing effect.


Free for all

First of all, the Qantas Wi-Fi service will be free to all passengers. It won't matter if you're in business class seat 1A or flying on the very cheapest economy fare down the back of the bus. Qantas maintains there'll be no any price tag, nor any imposed speed or data limit.

By comparison every other airline in Aussie skies charges for Internet access, at up to $25 for the entire international flight.

(Emirates is the odd one out, giving you the first 100MB free and then charging a paltry $1.30 for each extra serve of 500MB.)

Sky-high streaming

Also in Qantas' favour is that its satellite service will be fast. As in, broadband speed.

Don Buchman, vice-president of Qantas technology partner ViaSat, told Fairfax Media that travellers can expect "12 megabits per second [Mbps] … to each connected device on the plane."

That's equal to the ADSL2+ broadband service in most homes – more than twice what's needed to watch Netflix in high definition – and outstrips what almost any other airline offers.

"The technology we're using makes us confident that we'll be able to provide a fast internet connection to passengers" a Qantas spokesman told High Flyer.

"It will be enough to comfortably stream video and given we're offering it for free, we expect take-up to be strong".

Connecting flights

It's worth noting that US airline JetBlue uses the same ViaSat technology, with real-world speeds topping 10Mbps – although the data rate is dynamically throttled to suit your current online activities.

JetBlue has adopted two approaches which I'd not be surprised to see Qantas embrace once its Wi-Fi is officially launched.

Firstly, JetBlue has a content partnership with Amazon which allows passengers to sample Amazon's Prime streaming service – an excellent way to expose a captive audience to its video catalogue of shows such as The Grand Tour.

JetBlue also offers a substantially faster connection at $9/hour that's suitable for large file downloads and navigating corporate-friendly 'virtual private networks'.

How will Qantas' inflight Internet change the way you fly? Are you looking forward to being connected above the clouds, or dreading the loss of this last slice of downtime?

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.

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