Several billion people fly every year, but it’s during the summer months that airlines see the greatest amount of passengers traveling to destinations all over the globe. To remain competitive, airlines strive to offer their clients the best, most comfortable experience possible. They offer newer and better seats, meals, and better entertainment options. One of the newest amenities that is internet access delivered directly to passengers’ tablets, laptops and smartphones. However, both the price and quality of your connection is likely to differ greatly from one airline to the next.
Delta, for example, charges its passengers up to $35 to surf the internet during their flight, though the word “surf” may not be appropriate to describe the frustratingly slow connection that is often the result of numerous passengers using the same network at the same time. JetBlue, on the other hand, offers all of its passengers access to surprisingly fast internet—typically exceeding 10 Mbps, JetBlue’s internet connection is likely the best the airline industry has to offer.
So why, you might ask, is there such an enormous difference in speeds and pricing from one airline to another? As it turns out, the reasons are connected to both an airline’s technology and its business model. Of course, older aircraft are likely to have a much harder time keeping up with today’s rapid technological advancements than newer ones are. But technology aside, the quality of internet connection an airline offers its passengers depends greatly on its business plan.
Major airlines are the ones more likely to have a large number of business passengers, meaning the internet bill—however high it ends up being—will be footed by the company employing those passengers. This simple observation has led many major airlines to charge much more for internet. As it turns out, when even as few as 7% of passengers pay for internet during a flight, the profits made by Gogo and its airline partners are still quite formidable.
Small airlines, on the other hand, offer inflight internet as a way of standing out from the crowd and attracting more clients. JetBlue, for example, pays its provider, ViaSat, a sizeable amount for the bandwidth its passengers use.
The type of network airlines connect to typically determines the speed of the connection. Some aircraft get their Internet connections by linking to satellites in orbit or by linking to cell towers on the ground. These types of networks can support connections anywhere from 3 Mbps to 70 Mbps. The latter may sound very attractive, and the former perfectly tolerable, but it must be remembered that this is shared capacity we’re talking about. That means that each passenger is effectively sharing that bandwidth with not only all of the other passengers on the aircraft, but all of the other planes that happen to be in the same airspace as well.
Long story short, paying a lot of money cannot guarantee passengers a good Wi-Fi connection. Internet is also likely to become even more expensive on major airlines that know their business flyers will use their corporate credit cards to get as much internet as they need. In fact, Gogo has been raising its prices instead of lowering them over the past few years, clearly demonstrating that airlines will charge as much as they can.
A solution to the issues mentioned above would be to install a streaming media server that does not require an aircraft to have internet, since the the vast amount of content it could offer passengers would be stored on the device. Already, companies like FDS are creating such systems and preparing to install them on aircraft and airlines are likely to be very interested in this cost-efficient and practical solution.