It’s been delayed by a couple of weeks, but Qantas has finally won the race to be the first domestic carrier with inflight wi-fi, beating rival Virgin Australia by switching it on today
Alas it’s only one plane in the fleet so far – a Boeing 737-800 (keep an eye out for VH-XZB) – and still running in beta mode, but it means passengers will be able to watch Foxtel, Stan, and Netflix or browse YouTube and Facebook during the flight.
The airline expects testing to run until the middle of the year before rolling the system out from then, with the goal of having the 80 planes switched on in the Airbus 330 and Boeing 737 fleet by the end of 2018.
Qantas demonstrated the wi-fi to the media this morning, having cancelled the event at the last minute nearly a fortnight ago citing “stability issues”.
A few days later, Virgin Australia announced it would begin a three-month testing period on a single Boeing 737-800 in April.
The airline has also been quizzing customers to gauge how much they’re prepared to pay for in-flight wi-fi and the likelihood that it will influence the choice of airline. In a recent survey, the Virgin plan appeared to offer two internet levels – a “basic” service priced between $8 and $14 per flight, which it says would be “ideal for general browsing, online shopping, emails and social media”; and “high speed”, priced at between $15 and $21, for streaming video, for example Netflix.
Qantas claims its system is “up to 10 times faster than conventional on-board wi-fi”. But the company will ban voice calls on flights.
It expects up to 15,000 Qantas passengers per month will use the service during the beta testing period, rising to around 15 million annually once the rollout is complete.
CEO Alan Joyce said the technology was “a generation ahead of what most airlines around the world have” and took a sly dig at his rival.
“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,” he said.
Qantas is in discussions with suppliers for a solution for its international fleet.
Dr Terence Percival, a member of the CSIRO team that helped invent wi-fi in the 1990s, was among the passengers on today’s first flight.