Recently, I had the pleasure of sampling Panasonic Avionics’ satellite in-flight connectivity (IFC) solution. On my travels back from Singapore to London via Frankfurt, ably assisted by Deutsche Lufthansa, I was able to test its FlyNet mobile and Internet services. Attempting to beat the proverbial test starting gun, which Linford Christie failed to do so in 100m final at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, I tried logging onto the network whilst the airplane was trundling to the runway before take-off, only to discover it had not yet been activated. This may seem like an irrelevant point but as mobile devices weighing less than a kilogram are permitted to remain on, in “flight mode”, throughout the entire journey. One can only assume that either Deutsche Lufthansa has not applied to activate its IFC services at the gate, or the local authorities currently forbid airlines from doing so. Indeed, Southwest Airlines saw use of its in-flight Wi-Fi system from Panasonic rival, Global Eagle Entertainment, increase by 25% after it became the world’s first airline to offer “gate-to-gate connectivity”
The price options for the IFC:
- €9.50 for one hour
- €14.50 for four hours
- €17.50 for twenty four hour
I choose the one hour option. The logging on and payment experience was difficult and it took two attempts before I was able to successfully get online. Initially, I tried a messaging app (WhatsApp) and found the speed of conversation interaction on par with land-based network communications. My second test was sending two emails; one, a small text email and the other, with a picture attached (3.58MB). Interestingly, the text email took 35 minutes to reach its recipient, while the email with a picture attached took 36 minutes. This would seem to highlight a delay in the email server system rather than the actual upload speed of FlyNet. I also viewed one video on YouTube twice – the first time via the Chrome browser, and the second using my phone’s YouTube app. The video on the Chrome browser had a significant buffer period before starting, the image clarity was woeful, and it paused every 15 seconds or so. If I were not undertaking this task as test, I would have most likely given up. The video by the app worked well – picture quality was remarkably good and there were no pauses during the play.
My last test was updating an app on my smartphone to get an approximation of download speeds on the network. The update was 15.3MB and it took 1 minute and 27 seconds to complete equating to 176KB per second. One critical point to note for this review is that I undertook all the tests at the latter end of a night flight so most passengers were asleep and I had the bulk of the network capacity to myself. Air New Zealand has previously stated that one of the reasons it has yet to choose IFC for its new Boeing 787s is because most of its long-haul routes fly overnight. The company trialled OnAir’s solutions on two Airbus A320s in 2011 but opted against signing a longer term contract. Qantas has also trialled OnAir connectivity in the past and following poor take up on A380s that operate at night, shelved the service claiming passengers “prefer to sleep than surf the web”.