How does airplane WiFi actually work?

Aeroplane

Air travel was earlier like being cut off from the world, no internet and no calls. We’ve had to turn off our electronic devices or put our phones and laptop on flight mode and had to depend on our offline data, books, flight magazine and such stuff.

In today’s time connectivity a lot more important and the generation hardly has any spare time. Passengers don’t just want to admire the view from their window as these have became quite normal – they expect to be able to tweet about it, immediately, complete with pictures.

Many airlines are trying their best to issue. In-flight Wi-Fi is now available is 25% flights via companies such as Lufthansa, Emirates and Qatar Airways. Some of them do have a limit like you can just use X mb of data.

“Only 28 per cent of business travellers are satisfied with in-flight Wi-Fi offered by airlines”, said a 2012 FlightView survey of over 600 US passengers flying for work.

What’s more, this situation is probably going to get worse before it gets better. Why? Let’s get back to basics.

How plane Wi-Fi works

The main problem with internet on plane that we cannot make any connection between the airplane and the towers on ground.

US provider namely GoGo has put their effort built a network of 3G/4G ground stations all across the US, and planes communicate with these as they fly overhead. It’s a simple system, but bandwidth can be limited to as little as 3.1Mbps (and that’s for the entire flight, not per customer), so you can forget any ideas you had about streaming videos.

This is just the beginning, of course. This company is now rolling out its ATG-4 technology, equipping planes with dual modems and directional antennae, and this all helps boost total bandwidth to a theoretical maximum of 9.8Mbps – but that’s still not very much. And it won’t help at all when a plane flies out to sea and leaves the ground stations behind. There are other upcoming companies too who all putting all their resource here to built up a sustainable and fast way to provide internet connection in air.

Scientists have also found an alternative approach is for each plane to connect via satellite. Some use legacy L-band technology, now slow and relatively expensive. And that’s why higher-frequency Ku-band (12-18GHz) satellites are the mainstream, relatively economical and delivering good performance.

Connecting via Wi-Fi instead and you’ll have to pay according to your airline’s own rules, which vary considerably: you might be able to pay by bandwidth, for time used (anything from a few minutes to a monthly unlimited pass), distance travelled or limited amount of data and more such stuff. Choosing an individual option isn’t difficult, but this does make it hard to compare the services on offer and yes this technology is now in its developing stage which is sure to be a lot developed within a decade.

Hope to see a way faster net on flight at end of 2030