Air China has announced that two flights between Beijing and Chengdu have become the first in the country to give customers free WiFi on board. And not only is it free, the airline says connection speeds go up to 30Mbps.
To put that speed in perspective, Gogo, the
monopolistic most widely used WiFi provider on flights in the United States currently only offers 9.8Mbps. Currently using air-to-ground antennas to broadcast their signal, Gogo services aren't robust enough to allow passengers to stream video from sources like Netflix on board flights. However, last September, Gogo announced it's new hybrid Ku-band Air-to-ground/GTO (Ground-To-Orbit) system, which the company expects to achieve up to 100Mbps. GTO is still undergoing testing on the ground, while Virgin America is the first airline planning to install the new service sometime this summer.
Gogo GTO Antenna, at it's debut. Photo by Paul Thompson
According to ZDnet, for Air China's trials, passengers had access to video streaming, instant messaging, web browsing, video calls and email during the flights. The airline's equipment comes from ZTE Corporation, using air-to-ground 4G signals in a partnership with Aircell (a division of Gogo) and China Mobile. It doesn't sound like the free WiFi is temporary, as Air China says it plans to expand the free service to more flights.