Get ready for fleet-wide* wifi on Virgin Australia. And at least some of the service will be free to passengers. The carrier reconfirmed its commitment to Gogo‘s 2Ku inflight connectivity solution this week, wrapping up the initial testing period on 737s earlier this year. The full fleet of 777-300ER, 737NG and A330 aircraft are expected to be fitted with the 2Ku kit in the coming years. The 737s and 777s are expected to be outfitted by the end of 2018 with the A330s to follow in 2019.
In the statement announcing the plans Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti spoke to the pricing angle, with come connectivity to be free, “Virgin Australia will offer a base level of free wi-fi to all of our guests on domestic flights and become the only Australian airline to offer wi-fi on international flights.” Combined with recent comments from Gogo about evolving pricing models it seems likely that passengers will see tiered pricing, with basic connectivity free and streaming levels of service a paid option. The wording also implies that long-haul passengers will not have a free tier, though that is not confirmed.
Initial testing on the two fitted Virgin Australia aircraft revealed some interesting statistics about usage profiles for the service:
The three-month Boeing 737 aircraft trial saw 77 percent of guests report a high level of satisfaction with the inflight wi-fi. The trial found the following insights on passengers’ wi-fi usage:
✈ 49% checked email
✈ 43% checked social media
✈ 31% read the news
✈ 27% sent text messages
✈ 19% watched Netflix
The service will mostly use the Optus constellation of satellites, especially for domestic coverage. As the aircraft fly further afield other Ku-band satellites under contract with Gogo, including SES and Intelsat, will be involved. The rollout schedule is not particularly fast given Gogo’s recent announcement of faster install times and the relatively small fleet – only 90 frames – to be fitted. But it is what it is.
Virgin Australia’s service competes against Qantas that is also rolling out high-speed service on its domestic fleet in partnership with ViaSat. That service is a hybrid offering, using Ka-band satellite coverage in the domestic market where nbn’s SkyMuster capacity is available. It can use Ku-band capacity contracted by ViaSat if the aircraft leave the Ka coverage area.
*The rollout will not include the E190s, props or regional aircraft; fitting 2Ku hardware on the smaller fuselage isn’t really viable.
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