Musk’s Starlink offers 100MB in-flight Wi-Fi on JSX flight

  • Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330-243 N389HA
    Hawaiian airlines

    IATA/ICAO code:
    HA/HAL

    Airline type:
    Full service carrier

    Hub(s):
    Honolulu International Airport, Kahului Airport

    Year of foundation:
    1929

    CEO:
    Peter Ingram

    Country:
    United States

Last week, a group of media types aboard a JSX flight over California experienced in-flight WiFi exceeding 100 megabits per second. The Ookla app measured the speed, which was more than enough for Netflix and YouTube video streaming, WhatsApp two-way video chats, web browsing, and email.


Will the 100 mb be suitable for wide-body aircraft?

Providing WiFi to around 300 passengers in crowded skies will be a big challenge for the Starlink system. Photo: Photo: Vincenzo Pace I simply fly

The system being demonstrated was Starlink, which was chosen by regional carrier JSX Air and Hawaiian Airlines as their inflight WiFi provider. The hour-long flight flew from Burbank to San Jose, and although there were only a dozen people on board, other aircraft pushed demand up to the equivalent of 20-30 passengers on the system. No doubt existing providers, like Viasat and Intelsat, will point to the small number of passengers on the system, and it’s fair to wonder if Starlink can handle more than 300 passengers on a Hawaiian Airlines jumbo jet.

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Starlink, part of Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), uses a constellation of small, low-flying satellites to deliver its broadband. Since the satellites are closer to Earth, they orbit the planet every 90 to 120 minutes to provide a more robust signal that arrives earlier, resulting in less lag than higher altitude systems. The downside is that smaller satellites have less capacity or bandwidth capability and may struggle to meet the demands of large aircraft in crowded skies. So far, Starlink has been successful in delivering broadband to rural customers in sparsely populated areas, with around 400,000 subscribers receiving their internet via over 3,000 satellites.

Starlink’s small receiver footprint will fit the Hawaiian fleet’s A321neos. Photo: Airbus

In April, Hawaiian Airlines announced that it had selected Starlink to provide free, low-latency broadband on flights between islands, the continental United States, Asia and Oceania. The airline said it is equipping its Airbus A330-200 and A321-200neo and incoming Boeing B787-9 Dreamliner fleet with Starlink. It does not plan to install the service on its fleet of 19 Boeing B717-200s that operate short-haul flights in the Hawaiian Islands. CEO Peter Ingram said Starlink would give the airline the best connectivity experience available in the air. He added:

“We’ve waited for technology to catch up to our high standards for guest experience, but it will be worth it. Our guests can expect fast, seamless, and free WiFi to complement our award-winning Hawaiian hospitality on board.”

Outside the aircraft, another attraction is the small footprint of the Starlink receiver. Bloomberg describes the flat antenna as “not much bigger than a large pizza box”. This is more suitable for the JSX fleet of Embraer jets than the larger and bulkier swiveling satellite dishes widely used by other satellite services. According ch-aviation.comJSX has a fleet of 29 Embraer aircraft, including two EMB-135ERs, 14 EMB-135LRs and 13 EMB-145LRs.

Bloomberg also said SpaceX unsuccessfully pitched Starlink to four of America’s largest airlines and missed out on an $866 million US government grant because the system “was still in the process of developing its technology.” The largest flight provider is Intelsat, which has approximately 2,000 aircraft linked by its satellites and 1,000 aircraft linked by air-to-ground systems that communicate with ground vehicles. Rival Viasat has systems on around 1,930 planes with deals to equip a further 1,210 planes.

For the benefit of our global audience, it would be great to hear how well in-flight WiFi works in your part of the world.

Source: Bloomberg

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