Air NZ Partners With Starlink For High Speed In-Flight Free Wi-Fi

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Domestic New Zealand flights will become one of the first globally with high-speed, low-latency internet access, thanks to a recent deal struck with Elon Musk’s Starlink.

Air New Zealand has announced a partnership with Starlink to use the company’s lower-earth orbit satellite constellation to provide free Wi-Fi to domestic flight customers.

A trial period is scheduled for mid-next year across two classes of aircraft, the A320, and the ATR 72. These will have hardware installed to access the LEO satellite constellation. The trial is set to last 4-6 months, and this will be the first time Wi-Fi is added to an ATR 72 aircraft.

Air New Zealand’s chief digital officer, Nikhil Ravishankar said he believes having to switch off when flying is dead.

“Being in the air was one of the last places where you could completely disconnect, but that has been changing progressively over the past few years.”

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“Now rather than accessing a service that isn’t really meeting expectations based on what we’ve experienced on the ground, (this deal is about) really bringing that up to parity.”

This new service is expected to change the way people travel, bringing forth opportunities to work in real-time while in the sky, as well as provide a number of eCommerce opportunities.

“What this will enable is things like e-commerce and your ability to shop while you’re in the air.”

“It opens a plethora of opportunities in my view around services you can access over the internet just as you would at home or there will be specific services, no doubt, that get built into the in-flight experience.”

This deal comes after multiple Australian telcos have landed deals with SpaceX and Starlink to use satellites for connectivity.

Telstra was the first to announce a partnership with Starlink to sell its services, as well as offer its own option. This required the customer to purchase specific hardware.

Optus jumped on the train soon after, partnering with SpaceX, where users could connect directly to a satellite constellation from their device. No further hardware was required.

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Mr. Ravishankar said he expected multiple changes would come in as higher speed internet becomes normal aboard aircraft.

He also said he believes services including AirPlay and Google Cast would be available on its own in-flight entertainment screens, which are a Panasonic product.

The biggest problem faced by most airlines when attempting to provide on-board Wi-Fi is it usually came from higher earth orbit and was limited in capacity.

“We’re trying to be part of a community that’s trying to solve a very specific challenge, which is increasing the size of the (internet) pipe into the aircraft. Once we solve that sort of connectivity issue, the world is your oyster,” Mr. Ravishankar continued.

“We think that there is no reason why, if you have access to the internet on the ground, you shouldn’t have access to the internet at 30,000 feet in the air. We see access to the internet here in New Zealand as a human right, frankly.”

Social media and streaming services should work without issue, however, passengers won’t be able to make calls, or video call for safety reasons.

Starlink vice president, Jason Fritch added, “We’re proud to work with Air New Zealand to bring Starlink’s high-speed internet to their aircraft and extend this game-changing in-flight connectivity experience to more passengers around the world.”

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