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How does in-flight WiFi work?

WiFi is arguable one of the best inventions to have improved connectivity. You can easily chat, or video chat, with friends in a café or simply from the comfort of your own home. One of the most exciting developments in the area of internet connectivity are the advances that have allowed for WiFi connection on onboard airplanes.

Due to the lack of networks on planes, before this recent development it was simply not possible to stay connected when in transit, and emails, texts and iMessages would have to wait until you'd landed. Nowadays, technology has thankfully evolved; some planes are equipped with WiFi connections meaning you can stay almost as productive as you would in the office, or at home with a regular WiFi connection.

How does the in-flight WiFi work?

Although these services are usually charged at a small fee, in-flight WiFi is designed in two forms which makes it easy to reach the person regardless of the area that they are situated high on the sky. For example, the signals can easily connect to your device even when you are about 35,000 feet from the ground.

What does it use?

  • The mobile broadcasting - One method uses the mobile broadcast towers which are installed to send signals up through the planes antennas. These antennas are set in a way that they can easily change and connect to the nearest tower. In other words, the connection is done such that the antennas will be compatible with all the broadcasting posts that are situated in different areas. This ensures that there is a good flow of connection all through. Note that if the plane passes in some areas that have distractions let's say mountains or water bodies, the connection may be disrupted.
  • Satellite technology - This type of connection occurs just like in the televisions and other services whereby the plane gets the signals from the earth through the transmitters. In this case, the plane has to be equipped with an onboard router to make sure that the internet connection is evenly distributed among all the passengers. Also, just like the mobile broadcasting methods, the planes that are connected with the use of satellites uses all the satellite posts on different areas on the ground.

Although the plane passengers find their online communication to be efficient while still on the air, we cannot ignore the fact that this also comes with its downfalls. A lot of people have reported to having a slow connection when using the wifi on the air.

So what causes the slow connections?

In the era that we are living today, almost everyone owns a smart device. It could be a smartphone, a laptop or even a tablet. These are the major items that people tend to fly with and if all the passengers on the plane are connected to the available internet, the connection tends to slow down. This is because the WiFi has not been yet designed in a way that it can serve multiple devices and still remain strong. The multiple connections to the wifi by passengers is what causes the straining of the sources. Also, some applications require a strong internet connection and that is the reason why one may be unable to browse these apps while on the air.

Is in-flight WiFi cheap or expensive?

The in-flight WiFi is quite expensive due to various factors. One, there are a lot of connections that need to be installed inside the plane to provide excellent services and connections and this does not come cheap as the airline will have to spend loads of money to have the connection done. There are maintenance fees that the airline will incur often and this adds to the increased number of expenses. All these extra services and gadgets that the in-flight wifi requires to operate adds to the expenses thus making the cost to be high.

Which are some of the airlines that offer in-flight WiFi?

As we saw earlier, the installation of the airline WiFi is not easy and therefore some airlines have not been able to install the connections on the plane. But the common airlines do offer the wifi connection and even for free although data restrictions apply. Some of these airlines include: Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Nok Air and Norwegian Air.

For more informative nuggets like this, take a look at the other articles in our business travel series. If you are interested in how you can get the most out of your business trip, check out our business travel insurance for information on how our travel insurance policies can help you.

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