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inflight wi-fi

Feb 23, 2016

Qantas + NBN sets up a huge contest for market control

The Qantas decision to pair with the NBN to deliver broadband to its A330s and 737s next year is the biggest competitive product initiative yet taken in mainline domestic air travel


Alan Joyce says Qantas is going to connect jetloads of people to the web for free
Alan Joyce says Qantas is going to connect jetloads of people to the web for free

The Qantas decision to pair with the NBN to deliver broadband to its A330s and 737s next year is the biggest competitive product initiative yet taken in mainline domestic air travel in Australia.

The competitive ramifications for Virgin Australia could be very serious, although the No 2 player in this market has yet to reveal who it is going to call to come up with a counter offer.

And as is always the case with sky internet systems, they don’t always meet the brochure expectations, which is why Qantas will be running some demanding in-flight tests toward the end of this year before the mainline fleetwide rollout in 2017.

But the key elements are compelling. The Qantas system will free of charge, provide access to fast broadband internet via the two Sky Muster NBN satellites.

These are the geostationary satellites that fill in the gaps in NBN coverage where the cabled rollout isn’t happening. It’s the bush version of the NBN where the towns are too small or the outposts too remote to be part of the service now being provided across more and more of suburban or outer metropolitan Australia.

Qantas group CEO Alan Joyce declined to give projected download/upload figures for the service today, but did say that it would be around three or four times faster than the internet currently available on the ground in parts of the country, as in the country, not in the CBD of the major cities. Or for that matter, in a Qantas lounge where you can sometimes clock speeds that exceed what is likely from the NBN Sky Muster combination in some places.

He also said Qantas would look towards providing the same service on Jetstar domestic flights at a later date, but for a price yet to be determined compared to inclusive in any Qantas fare on its A330s and 737s.

“All the passengers on a flight could catch up with the Netflix they missed the previous night”, Mr Joyce said. (This could add an exciting but perhaps unwelcome dynamic into cabin management for flight attendants in some cases, assuming 300 people don’t crash the finite bandwidth being divided between them.)

Coping with passenger demand on Emirates flights, where you access more bandwidth that most people would use in a day for $US 1, has often proved impossible, with even the loading the first page of an internet site taking up to half an hour when over 400 passengers all simultaneously take up the offer.

Mr Joyce said being able to get NBN speeds that weren’t previously available to Qantas was critical to the initiative. He said that when the airline offered previous internet capabilities on its A380s they were at best adequate for checking emails and Facebook, and the demand from passengers didn’t support offering the option.

But the system being made available through the NBN would allow streaming movies, live TV, fast high data consumption applications and even, subject to the cabin experience during the trial period, the use of Skype and FaceTime.

Mr Joyce acknowledged that passenger responses to people using such programs live in a cabin were an important matter for consideration.  The use of voice over internet communications can be divisive, just as normal mobile phone usage can be in public, leading to some rail systems providing segregated ‘quiet’ carriages, which is not easy to do inside a 737 for example, but maybe possible in business class in an A330, where there are often two sections divided by a set of doors and a galley or toilet.

“Wi-fi will be a free service on Qantas” he said. “Everything in the Qantas full service product range in bundled (or included). “We pay for the data.” He said Qantas customers expected meals or refreshments or checked bags to be all part of the fare, and that would extend to connectivity.

But its being provided as a pay for use service on Jetstar would be considered.

The NBN trials on Qantas later this year will be more than interesting. As will be the Virgin response.


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30 thoughts on “Qantas + NBN sets up a huge contest for market control

  1. Keto Vodda

    Will Qantas data be prioritised over residential traffic as they fly over?

  2. Ben Sandilands

    No, the residences will either be connected via NBN cable or using a competing system where such is offered. Unlike the US domestic systems which often access internet ground stations. This is a satellite based system, and it does have inherent problems, like latency, because these are high satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

  3. endeavour.paul@gmail.com

    As a taxpayer helping to pay for the NBN satellites that are meant to be there to provide high speed services to the bush, I hope there is a proper commercial price being charged by the NBN for the service.

    It is also imperative that the high speeds are maintained for the people of the bush.Providing for an airline is not meant to be in their charter.

    As an Air NZ shareholder, I have a lot to be worried about if the LNP ever returns to the “Minister For Qantas” days. The Government should be ensuring this transaction is entirely above board.

  4. ghostwhowalksnz

    Is it an ‘exclusive’ agreement with NBN or has Qantas got a ‘first mover’ arrangement which say gives them a couple of years advantage

  5. endeavour.paul@gmail.com

    Having a bit of a look around, letting Qantas on board will have an effect.

    NBN are shunting 40,000 of the 400,000 anticipated satellite customers off to wireless and wired solutions in order to try to get an increase in speed from the satellite service. Makes it seem like it is going to be pushed to its limits very early in it’s life.


  6. comet

    Not sure which alternative is better…

    Emirates charging $1 for inflight internet, and 400 people using it at once.

    Or Singapore Airlines, which charges exorbitant rates per megabyte, which resulted in one passenger being charged US$1171 for internet use in one flight sector. And even at that price, it was still as slow as molasses.

    I would imagine it would be possible to cover the Sydney-Melbourne and Sydney-Brisbane routes by using ground based transmitters.

  7. BugSmasher

    Not happy. As a remote resident I struggle to get 1mbps on my ‘broadband’. The new sky muster sattellites were supposed to help those in the bush get 12mbps+. That won’t happen if even a few thousand Q customers at any given time decide to flog the very little bandwith availabe.

    The NBN should be ashamed of itself – and so should Qantas. I hope they get shaped to buggery when genuine customers on planet earth need the resource.

  8. Concorde

    Allowing voice calls via Skype, Viber or similar will be a huge mistake by Qantas!

    You think there is air rage now; wait until someone in a nearby seat decides to incessantly chat away on a call for an hour or so of your flight. This has the potential to create massive issues for the cabin crew and ultimately the tech crew when (usually sane) passengers start an on-board revolt in an effort to silence the chatty passenger.

  9. Burnsy

    comet, Singapore was charging US$21.95 for internet access for the whole flight at the start of the month when I flew SIN – MEL. Speed was pretty good, granted I was only emailing, messaging and some browsing.

  10. Ian Roberts

    Google’s Project Loon might be a poetic response from Virgin.

  11. Dan Dair

    I can’t see how the very finite bandwidth of a satellite system can work in a large group situation.? (If I’m in error, someone please explain.!!!)
    Especially if VOIPing or streaming will be allowed.?

    Could this me be mitigated by having a number of satellite signal points on each aircraft. If this is possible, it would increase the available bandwidth by a corresponding factor.?
    Presumably, it would require specific wiring within the aircraft, or careful signal-zoning for a fully wireless system on-board, to ensure that no signal point was maxxed-out.?

    Perhaps those on the ground who are planning on using this same service & who are potentially in a line-of-sight-blocking situation with flight-paths, will be offered something to mitigate slow-down or drop-out of the signal when a Qantas jet passes overhead.?

  12. BugSmasher

    Dan, my understanding is that the bandwidth limitation is not confined to a geographical location (eg when a plane flies overhead), but to the capacity of the satellite over its entire footprint.

    For those of us in the bush who will rely on these satellites for broadband, this will not be a problem that exists for only a few minutes while an aircraft flies over. It will be a permanent and serious degradation of service for all users nation wide.

    It absolutely stinks and I will be writing to MPs about it. If Qantas want to provide free internet on domestic services they can bloody well go and buy it from a commercial satellite provider or put up their own satellite. Hands off further degradation of the already paltry bandwidth that will be available to remote terrestrial NBN satellite users.

  13. sang froid

    Geez, who wants it anyway …….

  14. getluv

    @BugSmasher – I’m sure QF will be paying for the bandwidth. The NBN is also a business owned by all Australian taxpayers, not for the small percentage who think they need very fast internet in the bush.

  15. Dan Dair

    The issue isn’t about whether Qantas will be paying market-price for the internet usage,
    It is about how those ‘Australian taxpayers…in the bush’ will be affected by QF’s usage of a system which was specifically devised & planned to benefit those citizens who are otherwise unable to obtain internet coverage.

    As Ben says,
    other specifically commercial satellite internet providers are out there,
    so why should the government initiated & backed system specifically set-up for internet usage of ‘Australian taxpayers…in the bush’ be used by a business user, to the detriment of those it was designed to enable.?

  16. whiskeyalphalimalimadashecho

    Get luv, ignorant comment. For us in the bush, we often get very poor connection speeds. I for one am still on pair gain. Meaning ADSL1. For the last 15 years. The NBN is essential infrastructure, and we deserve it as much if not more than city folk. Unless you think dirt roads and candle light are enough for those of us in the small percentages.

  17. getluv

    Internet all over this country is crap, yes even in the eastern suburbs of Sydney.

    I’m all for this infrastructure and everyone should benefit. Internet in the sky just brings Australia on par with other countries. Yet, tall poppy syndrome will always get the better of people. “what about me?”

    If you honestly think the network is going to be completely unusable if a couple of thousand of people in the sky may be surfing the net at the same time, then you need to work on your arguments before wasting your MP’s time. Taxpayer money pays for that reply.

    The whole point of testing, trials and regulatory approvals (which they announced) was mostly likely to take into account effect on the network and what policies are going to be in place when Wi-Fi goes live across the fleet.

  18. Brown David

    Wow, a good news story turned into a lot of negativity.

  19. ghostwhowalksnz

    Is no one noticing the catch?

    ..reaching speeds UP TO 20 Mbps per person ..
    Its the same old ISP sales, with very fine small print … actual speeds may vary, which means a fraction of the above.
    Looking at the map showing the cell size and location I think it will be along the heavily trafficked eastern corridor that will notice the biggest effect

  20. Flying High

    Incredible, here we are talking about advancing technology and the discussion has been hijacked by a bunch of moaning, self centred communists who think they have property rights over the internet in country areas.

    You dont even know the full technology solution. So how do you know if it will have any impact? Your just guessing.

  21. Ben Sandilands

    The connections will be to a flight, not to the individual, who will share the bandwidth delivered by that connection with anyone else who also elects to use it.

    I think the briefing on this understated the importance of the preliminary end of year trials. If the flight connection didn’t include live TV the results would I think be remarkably useful for business travellers although I’m curious to know how some rapid fire cloud computing procedures would handle geosynchronous satellite latency.

    The drain that HD TV could have imposed on the original Connexion by Boeing system was as I understand it one of the things that killed it.

  22. whiskeyalphalimalimadashecho

    “For decades, rural and regional Australia has been left behind when it comes to telecommunications,” said NBN Co stakeholder relations advisor Tony Gibbs.

    “NBN Co’s plan to deliver high speed broadband to every Australian with one network utilising three technologies, fibre, fixed wireless and satellite aims to change that,” he said.

    I’m glad the NBN recognises the disparity in the levels of service. I’m a consumer, who recognises that 1Mbps is somewhat slow. I don’t care what the technology solution is as long as it works at a reasonable speed at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, if market forces were allowed in all aspects of society, then no one will be servicing or living in the bush. Hence the government steps in. Whether it be internet services or air routes.

    By the way, this article is quoted as saying the QF satellite connection could drain rural connection speeds http://m.smh.com.au/business/aviation/qantas-will-struggle-to-deliver-on-highspeed-wifi-promise-says-expert-20160223-gn1ovk.html.

    Perhaps it is you who is guessing.

  23. Ben Sandilands

    Not at all. If you actually read the SMH story you’ll see that it confirms the tech data I looked up. The connection is shared by the passengers. That means we might see 100 aircraft connected to the Sky Muster satellites, the equivalent of 100 extra ground based customers, and possibly also patched through an auxiliary satellite link provided by ViaSat.

    The risk to rural connection speeds will arise if several tens of thousands of additional subscribers need those services, or similarly, and quite likely, if the appetite of future apps and internet products continues to consume more bandwidth in the bush than the NBN originally calculated.

  24. Paul Havs

    I reckon the long term play here is BYOD plus free internet = no need to maintain and provide what must be expensive IFE systems…

    If the technology and bandwidth quality is better than some of the IFE of years past..particularly QFs then Netflix or whatever would be attractive.

    Just hope they have service filters or blockers to stop voip calls…

  25. BugSmasher

    If what Ben says is true and each aircraft will be limited to the same speed as any individual terrestrial sky muster customer, then Qantas have scored an own-goal.

    Good luck trying to stream anything with 100 other passengers onboard all trying to download with a collective 12mbps on the whole aircraft.

  26. Ben Sandilands

    Keep in mind it’s not what I say, but rather what my sources say, and I notice that the SMH received an identical backgrounder.

  27. Grizzly

    Am I the only one who would prefer to remain not contactable by email while I’m flying??

  28. Dan Dair

    Of course, you could always just turn your phone off when flying & turn it back on when you get off.?

  29. Mark Parker

    There’s been a few comments on this post that NBN was established to provide high-speed (Broadband) internet access for remote/rural areas – this is not the case.

    Read the NBN’s Statement of Corporate Intent! It states:

    “…the Government expressed three central objectives for the National Broadband Network (NBN):
    (1) To deliver significant improvement in broadband service quality to all Australians;
    (2) To address the lack of high-speed broadband in Australia, particularly outside of
    metropolitan areas; and
    (3) To reshape the telecommunications sector.

    The NBN will enable high-speed broadband to be delivered to all Australian households, businesses
    and enterprises through a combination of Fibre-To-The-Premise (FTTP), Fixed Wireless and Satellite

    NBN Co will be operating a wholesale-only, open-access network, and making wholesale services available to retail service providers on non-discriminatory terms and conditions…”

    NBN is the wholesaler – not the provider of retail internet services.

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