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How airplane wifi works – Business Insider



How airplane wifi works two different ways wifi works on airplanes
How wifi works on

Samantha Lee/Business

  • Inflight WiFi has been a recent and increasingly
    important development in air travel.
  • Aircraft-based WiFi has gone through several
    generations of technology over the past decade.
  • WiFi tech has gone from low-bandwidth satellite-based
    systems to ground-based systems, and now back to high capacity
    satellite-based tech such as Honeywell‘s GX Aviation system,
    Gogo 2Ku, and ViaSat Exede.

As the society’s need to be constantly connected increases, so
has the pressure to have inflight WiFi systems on the
world’s airlines.

Incredibly, inflight WiFi is a relatively recent development. For
instance, Boeing didn’t get into the business until 2001, while
Airbus didn’t enter the market until 2005. Gogo, one of the
biggest names in the business didn’t come online until

A decade ago, the industry was built on low-bandwidth
satellite-based systems to transmit data to connect the aircraft
with the internet. 

These systems really couldn’t handle a whole lot of

“Ten years ago, at best, you’d get your Blackberry to work
and you’d get basic text email,” Honeywell senior director of
connectivity services, John Peterson told Business Insider in an

Next came the ground-based systems. 

To get higher data rates, in the United States, they went to
ground-based systems,” Peterson said. “And these systems got you
into what you would call 3G cellular type speeds.”

This speed allowed passengers to have web browsing capabilities
and the use of smartphone apps. However, these systems depend on
ground-based transmitters, which means they only work

Unfortunately, the experience for many travelers has been
expensive and somewhat disappointing. The limited bandwidth of
the ground-based system has not been able to keep up with the
speed at which technology and data needs have increased. 

This is because inflight wifi systems are incredibly
expensive and have longer lifecycles than your everyday
consumer electronics. 

“When was the last time you replaced your phone? A year? Maybe
Two years ago? Inflight wifi systems are expected to last
five or ten years before they are upgraded,” Peterson told

However, there looks to be light at the end of the tunnel.

According to Honeywell, its GX Aviation system, which uses
Inmarsat’s Global Xpress network of Ka-band satellites,
can achieve speeds of up to 50 Mbps. ViaSat’s Exede can deliver up
to 12 Mbps passengers while Gogo’s 2Ku service promises 15
Mbps of speed. 

With next generations inflight wifi systems, “passengers are
going to get an experience closer to what they are used to
getting in their living rooms,” Peterson said.

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