Internet on planes could be next money-spinner for airlines

  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 21 Aug 2018

FILED - Satellite technology is enabling airlines to make internet available on flights, in what experts see as a potential gold mine for them. Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa

In recent years, it's only been on planes that people, especially businesspeople, can get some respite from their smartphones: a few hours shut off from the world, unreachable. 

But increasingly, even this island of tranquillity is being lost as satellite technology enables airlines to make internet available on flights, in what experts see as a potential gold mine for them. 

“Broadband Internet on board inter-European planes could make a killing for the whole industry,” says journalist Andreas Spaeth. 

The London School of Economics predicts that by 2035, onboard Internet could create a market worth US$130bil (RM532.93bil) globally, of which US$30bil (RM122.98bil) would be pocketed by the airlines. 

While it's not impossible to provide Internet onboard aeroplanes and is even common in the US, other areas of the world lag behind. 

That's mostly down to the technology needed, which is expensive and often doesn't provide fast enough Internet, according to Irish budget carrier Ryanair. “We don't see WiFi as a great innovation, since more and more customers download content onto their personal devices before the flight,” the airline says. 

“The set-up and operational costs of an onboard Internet connection are very high,” adds a spokesman for the German airline Condor. Since its customers tend to be holidaymakers rather than businesspeople, they are less likely to pay for such a service, he adds. 

But new technology could persuade airlines to change their minds. 

Deutsche Telekom and the satellite company Inmarsat are, for example, testing so-called EAN technology, which allows data to be transmitted not via satellite but via LTE signals from antennae on the ground, even as the plane flies at speeds of up to 1,200 kilometres an hour. 

Around 300 such antenna have been installed around Europe, says David Fox, who is responsible for aviation services at Deutsche Telekom and says the technology is faster and cheaper than via satellite. 

Their first customer is British aviation group IAG, which owns British Airways and Iberia, among other airlines. The technology is still in its test phase, but Fox says talks are already being held with other airlines as well. German airline Lufthansa, which has been in the vanguard of onboard Internet, may also be interested. 

Ryanair is also keeping an eye on the technology. “We'll continue to observe how it develops,” the airline says, adding however: “Some people are quite happy when they can't be contacted during their flight and get time out from emails and social media.” – dpa

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