How does inflight Wi-Fi work in airplanes ?



Inflight wifi became a thing in early 2000’s. This article will take you through how it became a possibility and what it could be in future. The concept of inflight Wi-Fi working when you are 30,000 feet away from the ground is similar to how people in rural areas get online with satelite dishes, without fibre or DSL cable infrastructure. Inflight Wi-Fi usually work by beaming internet connection to a transponder attached to plane using satellites. Along with this their is another system called ATG or Air To Ground transmission being used in most of the planes.

Air to Ground inflight Wi-Fi system

ATG uses ground based towers similar to cell phone towers for connection. Allocating an advantage of being lot cheaper than satellite internet. Planes that have ATG inflight wifi system are installed with two antennas on their belly. These antennas are responsible to receive and send signals to  and fro from cell towers which are on ground. Providing you to access internet while on flight.

But the fact is advantages are packed with disadvantages in complementary. And in this case along with geographical restrictions the other disadvantage is with speed which is painfully slow, maximum ranging upto 3mbps.  compare this with an average home Wi-Fi in US which can go anywhere from 20 – 100 MBPS. The latest ATG-4 system from GOgo supports speed up-to 10Mbps but unlike ATG-3 system it is not available in many planes.

Ku-Band inflight Wi-Fi system

Now lets dig into an other inflight Wi-Fi system called as Ku Band. Which is  expensive and faster than ATG system giving up-to 50 Mbps of internet speed. 50 Mbps is good at your house but compare it with an average commercial airline like Boeing 737. Where downloading a simple pdf could be frustrating if many passengers are connected to internet at same time. Beyond this unlike ATG system Ku Band depends on satellite connection, so you will be connected to Wi-Fi round your journey without planes geographical location. 

Because of usual corporate greed Wi-Fi costs extra on your flight and with limitations of current tech, airlines need to install bulk antennas on their planes. Creating significant effect on aerodynamics and plains weight costing more fuel. Leading to raise in pricing of flight tickets.

But future is bright, inflight Wi-Fi is being more focused. With advancement in tech airlines are installing Ku Band satellite antennas which may in near future have potential to reach hundreds of Mbps. Enough to stream even on a crowded plane. As well these antennas soon are estimated to be more less weight and power hungry

JetBlue in US has already installed the new tech on some of its planes. So try it if you are using their service.