Get ready to stream Netflix, Hulu on flights with next-gen satellite broadband

satellite broadband airlines american img galaxytab
In-flight Wi-Fi is about to get better. Companies such as Gogo, Panasonic, ViaSat, and Global Eagle Entertainment are working on next-generation satellite-based Wi-Fi solutions that should provide better bandwidth, speeds, and coverage than what’s currently offered now.

Domestically, Internet is typically provided through air-to-ground (ATG) technology. Gogo’s ATG service, the dominant provider, is based on a cellular radio network, meaning it relies on land-based towers. That also means the plane will possibly experience dead spots in connectivity as it moves from one service area to another, or over large bodies of water. The maximum download bandwidth of the first-generation technology is only 3.1Mbps, although the company’s newer ATG-4 service supports up to 9.8Mbps. Virgin America, one of the more tech-savvy airlines, was the first to roll out ATG-4 across its fleet.

Related Offer: Thousands of movies and TV shows on Amazon Video. Try it free for 30-days.

Despite being three-times faster than its predecessor, ATG-4 isn’t fast enough to handle high-bandwidth applications, like streaming services (YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, etc.). That’s why airlines are looking to satellite-based technologies, which aren’t only faster but allows for worldwide, uninterrupted service. While satellite-based Wi-Fi isn’t new, the availability had been limited to a handful of international flights. But as passengers are now increasingly more mobile and consuming content from their phones and tablets, satellite-based services are able to deliver the speed and bandwidth needed, regardless of route. And, an enhanced network allows airlines to implement new communications technologies, such as wireless streaming to passengers’ devices in lieu of seatback systems.

Virgin America and Gogo had originally planned to install Ground to Orbit (GTO), a hybrid system that features a satellite antenna (Ku-band) mounted on the plane for downloads and the ATG-4 antenna for the uploads, promising maximum speeds of 60Mbps. Gogo is also working on a platform called 2Ku that uses two Ku-band (2Ku) satellite antennas for uploading and downloading at a max speed of 70Mbps; it’s robust enough to stream both Netflix and Spotify simultaneously.

Although industry watchers had thought Virgin America would skip GTO and opt for 2Ku, Virgin America is installing an even faster system from ViaSat (however, with Alaska Airlines’ acquisition of Virgin, it remains to be seen what Alaska plans to do in terms of in-flight Wi-Fi).

ViaSat, which brands the service as Exede, announced in February the upcoming launch of two Ka-band-based high-capacity satellites, ViaSat-2 and ViaSat-3, that are expected to improve speeds and expand the broadband service footprint across North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and more.

According to ViaSat, the ViaSat-3 is a platform of three satellites and a ground network infrastructure. Each satellite will provide more than 1Tbps of bandwidth for high-speed Internet across “multiple applications simultaneously.” The first ViaSat-3 system will point at the Americas while a second system will focus on Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. A third system is planned for the Asia-Pacific region, the company said. Besides Virgin America, JetBlue and United Airlines use ViaSat, while American Airlines is considering it as well, according to analysts.

Inmarsat is another player that provides in-flight broadband. According to Reuters, this company has worked on its Global Xpress network over the last five years. The company’s I-5 F2 satellite already provides broadband connectivity to the Americas and the Atlantic Ocean region, while the I-5 F3 covers the Pacific Ocean region and the I-5 F1 covers Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The service was introduced commercially back in December 2015, and Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines are two carriers that have signed up.

“GX Aviation will globally deliver the fastest broadband in the skies. And because we own and manage the entire network, service levels will be consistently high, wherever you fly,” Inmarsat said. “It expands the possibilities for in-flight entertainment to real-time TV and TV on demand as well as standard email and web browsing at a much faster speed.”

Presently, only 6 percent of the flights that offer Wi-Fi have speeds that are comparable to broadband that’s offered in the home, according to a report provided by Routehappy. More than 1/3 of all available airline seats worldwide offer in-plane Internet connectivity, with Delta, United Airlines, and American Airlines offering the most seats with in-flight Wi-Fi in the United States, while Virgin America claims it’s the only carrier to offer Wi-Fi across its fleet.

David Bruner, vice president of global communications services at Panasonic Avionics, told Reuters that the next 24 months will be “really crazy” because companies offering satellite broadband will be fighting for contracts. Panasonic Avionics is also looking to get a piece of the in-flight broadband pie. However, Bruner said that there are currently “too many players fighting over too few planes.”

Ultimately, this “hyper-competitive” market may be a price war for these companies, but for consumers, it means they will finally be able to stream video from the likes of Netflix and Hulu, and skip the in-flight movie that will likely bore them to sleep anyway. Of course, the popularity of this in-flight connectivity option will depend on the final end-user cost. Virgin America, which had been beta testing the ViaSat service since July 2015, recently announced pricing, starting at $5 for a short-haul flight of less than two hours, and as much as $18 for a coast-to-coast flight for more than five hours. United charges $16 for non-Gogo flights. These prices should give an idea of what we can expect to pay as more airlines roll out satellite-based broadband.

Emerging Tech

Take a dip in the Lagoon Nebula in first image from SPECULOOS instrument

The European Southern Observatory has released the first image collected by their new SPECULOOS instrument, and it's a stunning portrait of the Lagoon Nebula, a swirling cloud of dust and gas where new stars are born.
Smart Home

Protect yourself: Here are some of the best home security systems

Looking for the best home security systems for your house? These systems offer the best mix of devices, smart features, monitoring services, and fees that you can afford (plus good customer service reports).
Mobile

Google Fi: Phones, plans, pricing, perks, and more explained

Google's wireless service, formerly Project Fi, now goes by the name of Google Fi, and it's now compatible with a majority of Android phones, as well as iPhones. Here's everything you need to know about Google Fi.
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in several genres for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.
Mobile

Free yourself! How to unlock a phone from the icy hands of your wireless carrier

Do you want to know how to unlock a phone through your carrier or a third-party service like DoctorSIM? Regardless of which way you want to go, we've compiled a list of requirements and methods for doing so.
Emerging Tech

Robot assistants from Toyota and Panasonic gear up for the Tokyo Olympics

Japan plans to use the 2020 Olympics to showcase a range of its advanced technologies. Toyota and Panasonic are already getting in on the act, recently unveiling several robotic designs that they intend to deploy at the event.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-generated text is supercharging fake news. This is how we fight back

A new A.I. tool is reportedly able to spot passages of text written by algorithm. Here's why similar systems might prove essential in a world of fake news created by smart machines.
Emerging Tech

Racing to catch a flight? Robot valet at French airport will park your car

Hate searching for parking at the airport when you need to catch a plane? Startup Stanley Robotics recently unveiled a new outdoor automated robotic valet system. Here's how it works.
Business

Bags with brains: Smart luggage and gadgets are making travel smoother

The bag you use to tote your stuff can affect the experience of any trip. In response, suitcases are wising up, and there are now options for smart luggage with scales, tracking, and more. Here are our favorite pieces.
Computing

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.
Computing

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis. 
Business

British Airways’ new Club Suite for business class comes with a door

British Airways is going after a bigger slice of the business class market with the imminent launch of the Club Suite. The plush seating option offers a more private space as well as an easier route to the bathroom.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.
Emerging Tech

Inflating smart pills could be a painless alternative to injections

Could an inflating pill containing hidden microneedles replace painful injections? The creators of the RaniPill robotic capsule think so — and they have the human trials to prove it.