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Free Starlink Wi-Fi could be coming to a flight near you

The skies are about to get friendlier — and faster — for your Wi-Fi-enabled laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Hawaiian Airlines announced that it has inked a deal with SpaceX’s Starlink satellite division to bring internet connectivity aboard flights.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Hawaiian Airlines and SpaceX revealed that travelers will get access to free in-flight Wi-Fi as part of the access.

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Starlink’s in-flight internet access would compete against services from Viasat and Intelsat’s Gogo service, both of which have been available on various airline partners over the years.

Unlike these competing services, the Starlink service, at least through the partnership with Hawaiian, won’t cost extra for flyers with the airline. Gogo passes, for example, range from $7 for just one hour of internet service to as much as $28 for an all-day pass with Delta Airlines.

Like Hawaiian Airlines, rival Delta is also exploring a deal with SpaceX, which would move the airliner away from its current partnerships. Delta had announced that it was beginning to test Starlink internet connectivity on select routes, though specifics of the trial were not revealed. Delta CEO Ed Bastian had been a vocal critic of internet service on flights, noting that in-flight connectivity should be fast and free, the Wall Street Journal reported. If the airliner’s trial with SpaceX proves successful, the Starlink-powered service could help Bastian reach his goal.

And while Starlink is looking to increase its footprint in the air, its rivals are already hard at work improving their equipment or switching to new technologies that would help increase speeds or reliability for in-flight connectivity. Gogo, a partner of Delta, had historically used a terrestrial network of antennas that beam signals up to the sky.

However, the company is working on a next-gen satellite system, as it views a terrestrial network as being more limited, as signals can be blocked by trees or tall buildings. Gogo intends on using its terrestrial network as a secondary backup service. Viasat, another Delta partner, is also working on launching new satellites this year.

Starlink's home satellite dish receiver.

In addition to commercial airliners, Starlink had previously announced a similar deal with charter air service JSX. And for those who don’t fly, Starlink also competes against DSL, cable, and fiber broadband providers to bring satellite internet into the home. To date, the company counts approximately 250,000 land-based subscribers to its satellite service and expects to enroll more than 40 million subscribers by 2025. SpaceX and Starlink have been rapidly deploying satellites to add more coverage, and are currently seeking Federal Communications Commission (FCC) clearance to deploy another 30,000 satellites.

The company’s recent efforts to turn on satellite service in Ukraine to help the country access the internet during its war with Russia had enabled Elon Musk’s startup to enjoy some goodwill, though some of that was depleted after newly unveiled price hikes were announced that would increase the cost of home service from $99 to $119 per month.

SpaceX promises speeds of at least 200Mbps for home users, though specifics about speeds and access were not revealed for Starlink’s in-flight service. Gogo’s satellite network delivers speeds of approximately 15Mbps, by comparison, in the air.

Any equipment used to connect an aircraft to Starlink’s satellites will require Federal Aviation Administration approval. Starlink has received FCC permission to test its equipment onboard airliners. Hawaiian Airlines expects that Starlink’s equipment will be on board select aircraft by next year, The Verge reported.

Faster internet access on flights where speeds could someday rival your home broadband service will open up the doors to more users and more uses in the sky. Streaming your favorite shows on services like Hulu and Netflix from the sky will one day become a reality. Even if Starlink doesn’t expand beyond a select few airliners, the company’s aggressive presence in the space could force rivals to innovate and deliver better in-flight service.

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