Emirates has confirmed that it will offer broadband internet access on one of its A380 aircraft in the first half of 2011, and will then have the capability on all subsequent aircraft deliveries.
Speaking with Business Traveller, Patrick Brannelly, Emirates Vice President, Corporate Communications - Product, Publishing, Digital and Events said that the plan was to roll out the capability on subsequent new aircraft deliveries, and also to retro fit in for long haul routes where there would be a demand for such a product. Nevertheless he was clear that with the size of the Emirates fleet, it would take time to fit and he did not want to raise passenger expectations ahead:
“It only becomes something to shout about when it’s on a lot of planes.”
Emirates currently has mobile phone capability on over 80 of its long haul aircraft using technology firm AeroMobile. The new internet capability will involve a switch to competitor OnAir, an Airbus / SITA-owned company which already has proved the technology on fellow Gulf Carrier Oman Air (see online news March 2).
Described by OnAir as being “....the full suite of connectivity solutions for cabin and cockpit – GSM/GPRS and WiFi Internet with global coverage”, the system uses Inmarsat SwiftBroadband and allows internet access via laptops (wireless), as well as the ability via mobile phones and smart phones to make and receive calls, send and receive text messages and emails, and access the internet.
On Oman Air the pricing is US$30 for full internet access, US$10 for access to a web email account, or US$5 for access to an instant messaging service. Emirates has not released the pricing, Brannelly said, but added that “It would not necessarily be as cheap as you’d get in Starbucks”. Pricing is set by the airline, with mobile phone use appearing on a passengers bill, with laptop use (where available) being paid for while inflight (see On Air’s website for further details).
OnAir says that the installation of its connectivity features commencing at the beginning of 2011 will allow passengers to “.... access the internet via wifi on personal portable devices such as laptops, smartphones and mobile telephones.”
Meanwhile, using the Aeromobile system, Emirates will introduce Blackberry capability on a new B777-300ER entering service next month,
“We will be adding GPRS data starting from next month which is just a little more bandwidth allowing people to check their email on Blackberry and smart phones.” Brannelly said. “The new aircraft is a B777-300ER and has the Swift Broadband avionics which is a bigger data pipe to the aircraft. We will then be rolling that out as quickly as possible, although not every aircraft will be upgraded because some aircraft will be leaving the fleet before we get to them. We will have three done pretty quickly, and then the 777 aircraft as they come.”
“Once we have GPRS working it allows Blackberry and instant messaging on your mobile phone and social media, “Brannelly added. “ In theory you could surf the internet, but it would have to be websites where it’s small packets [of data]. It is the equivalent of a GPRS level of service, so not an internet experience.
“The Swift Broadband product doesn’t necessarily give the bandwidth, but it gives the capability should you need it.” said Brannelly, who pointed out that the capability of the current KU system might soon by superseded by a new KA system, which offers more bandwidth, though this is certainly a few years away from being introduced.
Brannelly admits that for business travellers, there will, however, still be a demand for full broadband access such as that on the soon-to-be-introduced A380.
“There is a definitely a need to help the hard core business man who needs to open his laptop and do some serious work with good bandwidth, and that’s what we are looking at.”
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