Elon Musk May Deliver The Fastest Inflight Wifi Yet

Inflight internet isn’t nearly as challenging as it used to be, at least if you’re flying an airline that offers it, and that isn’t United. Even United is investing in upgrading inflight wifi finally.

When internet connectivity was first introduced on planes, one of the most common tweets in my feed was “I’m tweeting from a plane!” Everyone’s first inflight connection involved a public declaration of the previously-unimaginable.

Yet internet speeds rapidly became an issue, especially as more people starting using the limited bandwidth. Gogo’s air to ground network wasn’t really built for internet speeds, but to support Airfones nobody used. And it couldn’t be used below 10,000 feet.

Now with satellite-based internet from companies that do a better job than Panasonic, you can stream much more effectively than ever before. I’m on board an American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX equipped with ViaSat internet, and my only frustration is latency.

Internet speeds could improve soon beyond anything currently offered, at least if Elon Musk delivers on his word and if airlines are open to the investment.

Musk is an incredible entrepreneur. Many of his boasts are rather nuts, at least they seem nuts at first. Many of his ideas don’t come to fruition, so you have to take them with a grain of salt. At the same time, some of the things that start out seemingly impossible become reality. That’s what’s so exciting, his claims may border on Trump or Richard Branson-level marketing, but they also sometimes come true.

And – eventually – from StarLink or some other platform we’ll see performance like Musk is promising. It’s just a matter of when this delivers.

When Scott Kirby was President of US Airways he put off investment in wifi for years, believing they’d never earn more than it cost in wifi fees. He learned, however, that without good wifi customers avoided flying the airline. Quality internet connections are no longer the novelty or luxury where we announce them in tweets. They’re part of how we stay connected to the world.

(HT: @crucker)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I don’t mind slower speeds as long as I can check email and respond. Faster would certainly be better especially when you can not locally sync your emails. What I mind very much is Swiss air and some of the Asian airlines that charge outrageous fees by the MB. Even though I like Swiss air, I try to avoid the flight because of their internet. I was recently on an Austrian flight with no internet, that was a surprise, good coffee though.

  2. I don’t see why this wouldn’t be possible, now 500 Mbps bandwidth would be getting split across users but satellite internet on planes from a constellation that’s already demonstrated operational capability doesn’t seem hard…. Isn’t receiving Ka and Ku band signals on airliners a solved problem?

  3. It’s worth remembering that commercial aircraft are not only the fastest moving objects that will be connected to the internet but they are also the most densely populated group of internet users. On a long transoceanic flight, I would imagine an aircraft could be handled by multiple satellites, perhaps at the same time. Commercial aircraft must remain aerodynamic which means antennae have to work technologically but also not lose much if anything in terms of fuel efficiency.
    Perhaps Musk can solve those problems but let’s not lose sight of the wonder that is flight itself. Being able to remain connected to the world while moving around the earth at near supersonic speed is something few could have dreamed of not very long ago.

  4. IMO, I’d prefer Wi-Fi reliability (it actually functioning on my flight) over faster speeds. I’d say at least 33% of my AA flights this year have had inoperable Wi-Fi.

  5. Don’t be surprised if Elon Musk gets into the the selling of high speed internet as a means of dealing with his losses stemming from Tesla lawsuits. Mush is allegedly losing alot of money now from Teslas allegedly catching fire and malfunctioning.

  6. @DNI: Tesla’s news about fires and malfunctions are exaggerated by the media because it sells and no conflict of interest with advertisers (vs. the Volt recall fiasco that had received much less publicity albeit costing $1 billon to GM and LG).
    Tesla is increasingly making a lot of money ($1.5B net income in first half of 2021, up from $690M in all of 2020).

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