In-flight Wi-Fi testing: Why isn’t it everywhere yet?

No Instagram, no WhatsApp and no reply to the last email from your Airbnb address. Not being able to fly can be very difficult. KLM is the only one of the four major airlines to offer internet at Schiphol. Tui Fly, EasyJet and Transavia do not do this. And KLM’s WiFi is only available to a limited extent. That’s why the company has launched a new experiment to make the Internet widely available over the air.

Passengers will soon be able to use high-speed Wi-Fi for free on some intercontinental flights. According to aviation journalist Doran Sajet of NH Nieuws, KLM also wants to compete with foreign companies that are far ahead in providing internet. “KLM is lagging behind when it comes to installing Wi-Fi on board,” he told EditiNL. “It’s not on all devices by any means. That’s the case in the US, where there are almost no airlines with planes that don’t have Wi-Fi.”

Business traveler

And according to him, customers will increasingly base their choice of a company on Wi-Fi presence. “Especially business travelers expect that from KLM.”

But if it can be done in America, why not here? According to TU Delft aviation expert Joris Melkert, achieving this in the air is complicated. “If you want to walk outside and use your 4 or 5G network, you have to be within range of a cell tower. It’s a bit more difficult in a rural area,” he explains to edtnl.

“Also, the masts are directed downward, toward the people. And not upward. But the planes are up.” So it is difficult to reach the transmission tower from the plane. “Above land you can still fix a transmission tower upwards, as happens in the US for example. But above sea it becomes difficult.”

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Above the ocean, companies need to work with satellites, according to Melkert. “To get enough bandwidth to use the Internet with four hundred people, you need a few satellites.” Additionally, the aircraft must be suitable for receiving it. “To do this, you have to change an airplane. You have to keep a close eye on what frequency you’re transmitting on. The average airplane has 26 different antennas to communicate with. It shouldn’t interfere with each other.” It is already happening. “For example, the 5G network already interferes with the automatic landing system.”

According to Melkert, this is a very expensive operation. “A plane costs hundreds of thousands of euros. How are you going to pay for that as a company?”

During the trial in January, KLM’s Wi-Fi will still be free for passengers. The community cannot yet say whether this will continue.

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