Qantas to introduce free high-speed Wi-Fi under ViaSat deal

Qantas says passengers will soon be able to access free inflight Wi-Fi delivering internet that is as fast as broadband connections on the ground.

The airline announced on Tuesday it would introduce the new service on a Boeing 737 this year in a trial that will see the aeroplane fitted with modems and antenna that can tap into the national broadband network's satellites. 

The service, delivered under a deal with US internet provider ViaSat, will be rolled out to Qantas's domestic fleet of A330s and B737s from early 2017.

"Bringing high-speed Wi-Fi to the domestic aviation market has been an ambition of ours for a long time and we now have access to the right technology to make it happen," Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said.

"The sheer size of the Australian landmass creates some significant challenges for inflight connectivity but the recent launch of NBN's satellite has opened up new opportunities that we plan to take advantage of with ViaSat's help,"   Mr Joyce said.

He said internet speeds would be about 10 times faster than conventional in-flight Wi-Fi, meaning passengers could stream video and watch live news and sport. 

"This service will give Qantas customers download speeds in the air similar to what they're used to on the ground ... you won't be limited to checking your email or Facebook," he said. 


The trial will test the social acceptability of using services like FaceTime or Skype in flight before a final decision on policy is made.


"In the past the reaction to phone calls hasn't been great," Mr Joyce said. "We will be asking passengers what they think and what they want. Nothing has been decided on that."

ViaSat, a Swedish-owned satellite broadcaster which delivers in-flight Wi-Fi to US airlines JetBlue, Virgin America and United Airlines, will connect Qantas planes with a KA-band satellite and ground stations that link them to the NBN. 

Qantas said it was looking at options for high-speed Wi-Fi for its international and regional fleet. Mr Joyce said there were also plans to roll out Wi-Fi on Jetstar aircraft, albeit likely at a cost to passengers given Jetstar's pay per use policy for frills.

Mr Joyce declined to comment on whether fares would rise as a result of the free Wi-Fi inclusion on Qantas, but he noted there would be a cost to the airline for investing the equipment and paying for data.

Rival Virgin Australia has also been examining Wi-Fi options but it has yet to announce any plans for services or whether they would be included in the price of the fare.

Qantas reported a first-half underlying profit before tax of $921 million on Tuesday and announced an on-market share buyback of up to $500 million.

The airline also said it would build a new lounge at London Heathrow, set to open in the first months of 2017, and that it was keeping on two Boeing 747-400s slated for retirement in response to high demand as well as recruiting new pilots for the first time since 2009.  

This article Here comes Wi-Fi in the sky was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.