Qantas launching beta on-board Wi-Fi

Qantas' on-board Wi-Fi will be launched on Friday in beta mode as it collects additional data on the services prior to installing it on 80 domestic aircraft.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Qantas will be launching its on-board Wi-Fi services on April 7 after delaying it for over a week after "stability issues", but the service will remain in beta mode for several months while the Australian airline collects more data ahead of installing it on approximately 80 aircraft in its 737 and A330 fleets.

The service will be previewed for media on Friday morning ahead of availability for regular customers.

Qantas has been testing the service for several weeks, with the most recent test flight landing in Sydney on Wednesday morning after connecting over 100 devices.

The test flights have run for a period of around two hours each on popular flight paths between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Alice Springs while on-board ViaSat technicians monitored connections and usage and Qantas tested buffering and connection reliability.

ViaSat teams on the ground were also 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.

In addition to testing Wi-Fi usage throughout the plane for customers, Qantas last week used the conditions resulting from Cyclone Debbie to test the use of the service for pilots to obtain real-time information on weather in order to inform flight planning.

Qantas last week postponed the launch of its on-board Wi-Fi service due to "stability issues" that it said it would work through with satellite providers the National Broadband Network (NBN) and ViaSat.

The Australian airline had cancelled its test flight with media on March 27, saying that although the performance during internal trials of the Wi-Fi service over the past few weeks has been "strong", there were issues needing to be repaired.

"We were preparing to open it up to media and customers this week as we continue our fine-tuning over the next few months, but some stability issues have emerged that we need to fix before customers can use it," Qantas said in a statement.

"We're working with NBN and ViaSat to fix these issues very soon. We remain on-track for a broader rollout to the Qantas domestic fleet from mid-2017."

In February, Qantas announced the "successful" test of the on-board Wi-Fi service, with 140 passengers connecting an average of 1.6 devices each to the system and attaining download speeds of between 7Mbps and 12Mbps.

Originally, Qantas was aiming to enable access speeds of up to 20Mbps per passenger.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said that the Wi-Fi offering is the first item on the company's overall agenda, and would be rolled out to around 80 domestic aircraft ahead of its international fleet.

"This is next-generation technology that will support a level of connectivity that's 10 times faster than the typical in-flight Wi-Fi -- speeds similar to what you'd expect on the ground," Joyce said in February.

"This month, we've flown a number of test flights, which showed we're on track to deliver a fantastic service to our customers when the first commercial flight takes off in the next few weeks."

Qantas first partnered with satellite communications service provider ViaSat to deliver the Wi-Fi service using NBN's Sky Muster 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.

Complementary to its Wi-Fi service, Qantas also partnered with Foxtel, Netflix, and Spotify to allow customers to stream content for free while in-flight.

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