Spurred on by rival airlines outlining their race to equip passenger jets for inflight Wi-Fi, Qantas today announced a trial of Wi-Fi internet connectivity in six of its Airbus A380 superjumbos for first and business class passengers, commencing in February.
The six-week trail will allow passengers to connect to the internet on Wi-Fi enabled devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops on the route between Australia and Los Angeles.
The technology will enable passengers “to communicate online from the 35,000 feet,” said Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.
“Our customers will be able to access the internet via their Wi-Fi enabled personal electronic devices, such as iPhones, iPads and BlackBerrys, on Qantas for the first time,” he said. He neglected to mention that it would only be available to passengers in first or business class.
The Wi-Fi system, provided by IT services company OnAir, runs on Inmarsat’s “SwiftBroadband” technology that uses satellite links from the aircraft to beam the data back to ground networks.
Qantas says passengers can access the internet, including emails and browsing websites, “in exactly the same way as a terrestrial Wi-Fi hotspot”.
That means whipping out the credit card on board to buy a browsing data pack and logging on. No pricing has been released yet.
Ordinary voice calls to or from mobile phones in the aircraft aren’t part of the service, a spokeswoman confirmed. Facetime or Skype video calls are excluded too, as the inflight system does not have so-called “pico cells”, the devices that carry voice data, the airline said.
Qantas will evaluate the customer experience as part of an assessment of next-generation technologies and connectivity options.
Emirates also announced this week it would be using the same technology on its A380s, allowing wireless internet access on flights between Australia and Dubai.
Yesterday, Virgin Australia announced a deal with Lufthansa Systems to develop Wi-Fi connectivity with media-streaming capability to passenger’s mobile devices and laptop computers. But this technology would only be for streaming inflight entertainment, not inflight internet and email access.
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