Qantas has commercially launched its free in-flight Wi-Fi in beta mode on-board one of its Boeing 737 aircraft that travels between Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, making the service available for around 15,000 customers per month travelling on these routes.
According to Qantas, its Wi-Fi is around 10 times faster than traditional on-board Wi-Fi on other airlines; a series of live tests on Friday morning during the first flight saw speeds range between 2.57Mbps and 7.24Mbps download and 0.26Mbps and 0.61Mbps upload, with video streaming across the Netflix app able to occur at high quality.
In February, Qantas similarly revealed that it had been able to connect 140 passengers with an average of 1.6 devices each to the Wi-Fi system at download speeds of between 7Mbps and 12Mbps during initial testing.
Originally, Qantas was aiming to enable access speeds of up to 20Mbps per passenger, with the satellite providers looking to provide a service-level guarantee to Qantas of 12Mbps at all times throughout the flight once the service leaves beta mode.
Qantas' current terms of service note, however, that it cannot guarantee bandwidth, availability, or connected and data rate speeds for some applications, noting that temporary intermittent disruptions may occur for customers.
"The service may be impacted by various matters beyond Qantas' control, including acts of God, satellite or other equipment failure, weather or solar occurrence, any law, order or regulation by any government, or other failures or delays caused by you or your equipment," the terms of service say.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce hailed Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) for making in-flight Wi-Fi possible through its Sky Muster satellite service.
"In-flight Wi-Fi has been on our wish list for quite a while, but the sheer size of Australia meant it was hard to offer a service that was fast and reliable. The NBN has made it possible," Joyce said on Friday.
"The technology we're using on board this 737 is a generation ahead of what most airlines around the world have and there's a fair amount of complexity involved. That's why we've installed it on one aircraft for the first few months until we've finished fine tuning and are ready to roll out to the rest of the domestic fleet.
"From a competitive perspective, today's announcement puts us in a very strong position. No other domestic airline is offering its passengers next-generation Wi-Fi with a commitment that it'll continue to be included in the price of the fare. Behind the scenes, it opens the door to us making us more efficient through better flight planning and real-time itinerary management."
Joyce called the entire project an Australian one end to end, as it is an Australian airline and uses an Australian satellite provider, with Wi-Fi also an Australian invention.
A satellite antenna will be mounted on the top of each aircraft by Qantas engineers, along with several wireless access points, resulting in similar signal strength for all passengers no matter where they are seated on the plane.
Qantas has also partnered with Foxtel, Stan, Netflix, and Spotify to allow customers to stream content for free while in-flight. Foxtel and Stan are available from today, while Netflix and Spotify will be available within a few weeks.
Voice and video calls are not permitted across the Wi-Fi service, however, due to an effort not to disrupt other customers with noise.
In addition to offering Wi-Fi throughout the cabin for its customers, Qantas pilots will also use it to obtain real-time information on weather conditions in order to inform flight planning -- for instance, enabling them to avoid turbulence and potentially reduce medical diversions, while finding tailwinds to reduce flying time.
Pilots last week used the conditions resulting from Cyclone Debbie to test this system in the air.
The service is now live for those travelling on Qantas aircraft number VH-XZB. Qantas will continue testing the service until midyear, ahead of launching it on 80 Boeing 737 and Airbus 330 domestic travel aircraft by the end of 2018. Once the rollout is complete, around 15 million customers per year will experience the service.
Qantas said it is currently in discussions to bring the Wi-Fi service to its international fleet in future to enable all of its customers to access emails, streaming services, news, social media, and browsing while on-board.
Qantas first partnered with satellite communications service provider ViaSat to deliver the Wi-Fi service using NBN's satellite service in February last year. The service makes use of idle satellite capacity as the aircraft travels through Sky Muster's 101 Ka-band spot beams.
Qantas had on Wednesday announced that it would be launching its on-board Wi-Fi services in beta mode on April 7 after delaying it for almost two weeks after "stability issues".
Qantas has been testing the service for several months alongside ViaSat and NBN, with test flights running for a period of around two hours each on popular flight paths between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Alice Springs.
During test flights, on-board ViaSat technicians have monitored connections and usage and Qantas tested buffering and connection reliability, while ViaSat teams on the ground were able to run real-time analytics on the system's performance during test flights, allowing them to make changes, and test these changes, during flights.