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Intelsat’s satellite launch last month will significantly improve Wi-Fi prospects in the North Atlantic region. Illustration by Marcelo Cáceres.

APEX Insight: When it comes to the global state of in-flight Wi-Fi, US airlines are leagues ahead of European carriers – a notion recently confirmed in Routehappy’s latest report. Europe has been slower to adopt the technology due to the logistical challenges of setting up Internet transmission towers across the continent’s numerous borders. With satellite Internet becoming more economically viable, in-flight Wi-Fi is finally taking off in Europe, and airlines are developing browsing plans for business and leisure travelers alike.

Early EU Adopters

German-carrier Lufthansa is currently blazing the connectivity trail in the continent as the first European airline to offer super-fast Internet. UK-based telecoms company Inmarsat is partnering with Deutsche Telekom to provide Lufthansa passengers with cabin Internet service at speeds of up to 75 megabits per second, easily outstripping the browsing speeds of any American carrier. Lufthansa plans to have the service fully rolled out on its Airbus A320 fleet by summer 2016.

Many European airlines are currently testing in-flight Wi-Fi including Air France, Swiss International Airlines and Norwegian.

Air France recently announced a three-month trial partnership with Orange that will offer passengers on select flights a range of Wi-Fi entertainment options. Travelers opting into the plan will have access to high-speed Internet for the duration of their flight, allowing them to check e-mails, browse the web and enjoy a selection of movies, TV shows and music.

Swiss International Airlines has committed to offering Wi-Fi onboard its new Boeing 777-300ERs, set to enter the fleet this February. Their three-tiered service plan is geared towards casual Internet use – e-mails, social networks and light web browsing – with no high bandwidth plans currently available for people wanting to stream entertainment during flight. 

In-flight Wi-Fi has huge potential to improve the passenger experience for European customers, and it’s not just about entertainment and e-mails. Onboard Wi-Fi allows airlines to provide a more tailored passenger experience. British Airways already provides flight attendants with iPads to track passengers’ flight itineraries, meal plans and previous flight experiences to provide better service. On Wi-Fi enabled airplanes, cabin and ground crew members can send and receive status updates in real-time, streamlining communications and improving flight safety. In-flight Wi-Fi is more than a simple quality of life service for passengers – it’s a business necessity for airlines that hugely increases operational efficiency.

A New Frontier

Virginia-based satellite company Intelsat launched the first of its “Epic” telecommunications spacecraft last month. The craft, named Intelsat 29e, will significantly improve Wi-Fi prospects in the North Atlantic region, delivering a true high-speed broadband Internet experience to K-, Ku- and Ka-band compatible airplanes passing through its coverage area.

Intelsat 29e will deliver high-speed broadband Internet experience to K-, Ku- and Ka-band compatible planes traveling over the North Atlantic.

A second satellite – Intelsat 33e – is set to launch this August, and will provide coverage to the rest of Europe as well as Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia. ViaSat is also eyeing a late-2016 launch of ViaSat-2, which will cover essentially all of Europe. With several satellites in the pipeline, passengers and airlines in Europe and across the world will soon be able to enjoy the benefits of high-speed browsing on web-connected flights.

Fergus Baird is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Montreal. Follow his oddball alter ego on Twitter and Instagram for observations on weird life in the city and beyond.