Things that come to mind when you think about airplane Wi-Fi? Slow speeds and/or pricey data plans.
Admittedly, advances in ground-based and satellite technologies have trickled down the line, enabling airlines to offer cheaper packages, with some slowly migrating towards free in-flight internet. In the grand scheme, these packages are still relatively expensive as paying for a few hours of access may cost as much as a basic month long data plan offered by many major consumer wireless providers.
In-flight internet download speeds are still pretty hit and miss, with the average still sitting below 10 Mbps. There are definitely many instances where those speeds are much better, with some crossing 50 Mbps depending on who the provider is, but passengers flying through heavily trafficked airspace tend to see the lower end of things.
Say hello to SpaceX’s Starlink. Promised to be a game changer in the satellite internet market, Starlink’s mesh network of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites offers much better internet speeds and low ping at much more reasonable rates. They are already making a name for themselves in the ground-based, maritime and roaming markets, and it seems to be the same for aviation.
A month ago, TPG’s Zach Griff flew on one of JSX’s Starlink-equipped jets, conducting a series of tests. You can check out the full story here, but in short, he saw download speeds well above 100 Mbps, upload speeds ranging from 5-20 Mbps, and a ping ranging between the 28-150ms.
Streaming and conferencing services which are usually banned on other airlines due to the high bandwidth demands, are allowed on JSX flights, and Zach was able to seamlessly watch shows on Netflix, and even hosted an air-to-air video conference call on Zoom with only a few moments of lag.
It’s one thing to get these kind of speeds with stationary or slow moving targets, but it’s amazing that the network is able to deliver true high speed internet with low latency while tracking a very high speed target.
Obviously this test does not fully prove the resilience of the network as JSX jets only seat 30 people. It would be fun to see how well the transceivers work when dealing with 100+ people. However Starlink’s tech does open up the possibilities for a vastly improved internet experience in the sky.
With half of JSX’s 33 jets already outfitted with Starlink, they plan to completely upgrade its fleet by the end of Q2 of 2023. The best part about JSX’s upgrade is that on-board internet is completely free.
Besides JSX, bigger airlines like Hawaiian, airBaltic and Zipair have also signed on, with the expectation of providing Starlink service in the near future. Even a major brand like Delta Air Lines has been dabbling with the idea, conducting exploratory tests just a year ago, even though nothing has been said on the matter since.
[Featured Photo: JSX]