Friday, 28 November 2014 10:56

Australia to FINALLY get sky high Internet via NBN satellites in 2015, 2016? Featured

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A new report says NBN Co is in talks with Australia’s two major airlines so its customers can get Wi-Fi in the sky, not just for boring old inflight entertainment, but the real deal of inflight Internet.

Remember back in 2008 when Qantas tried to insult the intelligence and wallets of Australians when it flew up a trial balloon of super-expensive Internet and mail access with GPRS?

I’ve never forgotten it, so audacious was the ditched plan when US carriers were already offering Wi-Fi in the sky, albeit because they had the right satellites in place and Australia didn’t.

Then, in 2011, Qantas and Virgin teased Australians again with the potential of sky high Wi-Fi, but it an idea that sadly crashed and burned. 

The most promising flight path to Internet in the aisle (and my seat) then came in May this year, when Telstra announced it was trialling 4G inflight, which is something we’ll still love to see as it will probably be a lot faster than the NBN’s plans for satellite based inflight Internet.

That’s because the NBN’s Ka-band satellites would deliver 12Mbps down and 1Mbps up, which with a plane full of people could get pretty saturated, pretty fast, and while Telstra’s claimed inflight 4G speeds would be only about 3Mbps faster at 15Mbps down, you’re also talking 10Mbps up, with both those figures giving a heck of a lot more bandwidth to more users.

Of course, if Virgin and Qantas can have both inflight services at our disposal, then we’re really going to start cooking with AV GAS.

That said, any Telstra 4G network for planes would be on very specific and profitable corridors like Sydney to Melbourne, whereas satellite delivered Internet would theoretically cover the country.

The reason for the flurry of articles from Australian media on the topic is because NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow spoke at a business lunch yesterday in Melbourne, and spilled the beans on his talks with Qantas and Virgin.

We don’t know if Morrow took off prematurely with his talk, perhaps he should have waited until he actually had a deal or something, rather than talking about the ‘possibility’ of the two airlines offering inflight Internt, but Morrow is presumably confident he hasn’t run out of runway on the topic by announcing details early.

The other thing is that the satellites needed aren’t even in the skies yet, with the Herald Sun noting they won’t actually launch until ‘late next year’, with the satellites still being tested in the US.

Satellite based Internet would be able to give planes access in very remote parts of Australia, places where no 4G network is ever going to reach anytime soon

The thing is, if we have to wait until 2015 or 2016 until NBN can deliver Internet to planes via satellite, Telstra may have already used its 4G network to deliver 4G Internet to planes on all the popular and profitable routes, leaving the NBN delivered Internet floating sky high without aviation users.

But that’s the chance the NBN is taking, because it needs the satellites anyway to deliver broadband speeds to the bush where FTTP, FTTN and ground-based Wi-Fi just won’t go.

So - it looks like Australia is finally going to get Internet in the sky, although as with everything the NBN Co is doing to super-speed up our Internet, we’re going to have to wait. And wait. And wait some more - almost as if you were still on 56k dialup, as it looks like the only thing the NBN Co can't hurry up is itself. 


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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