SIA to boost in-flight Internet connection

A Singapore Airlines A380.
A Singapore Airlines A380.PHOTO: SINGAPORE AIRLINES

Technological upgrade of long-haul aircraft promises faster and more reliable service

Passengers can expect greater surfing speeds and more reliable connectivity in the skies with Singapore Airlines (SIA) retrofitting its long-haul aircraft with improved technology.

The upgrade will start later this year with SIA's Boeing 777-300ERs.

All of the airline's new Airbus 380s and A-350-900 aircraft, which will start arriving from the third quarter of next year, will also be installed with the new technology, an airline spokesman said.

The upgrade promises speeds of up to 100 times faster than what is available today, and better reliability, although the amount passengers will have to pay is still up in the air.

SIA, which began offering in-flight connectivity over a decade ago, did not reveal the current take-up rate.

Industry experts said that it was not very high.

SIA is not alone when it comes to a poor take-up rate among passengers for on-board Internet services. Despite an increasing number of carriers offering connectivity in the air, slow speeds, unreliable connections and high charges put passengers off.

Mr Rupert Pearce, chief executive of British satellite firm Inmarsat, which is partnering Sita OnAir and Honeywell to deploy its GX Aviation high-speed connectivity service for SIA, said the goal is to ensure a similar level of service as that available on the ground.

Inmarsat is also working with other carriers, including Germany's Lufthansa and Vietnam Airlines to install the technology, said Mr Pearce last week, at the opening of Inmarsat's new Singapore office and Asia-Pacific hub in Toa Payoh.

About half of SIA's fleet of just over 100 planes are currently equipped with broadband and mobile services. On its flights, passengers pay charges ranging from US$11.95 (S$17) per hour to US$21.95 for a 24-hour-block under time- based pricing. For volume-based plans, charges range from US$6.99 for 15 MB to US$19.99 for 50 MB.

The new product, which will be better than Inmarsat's current offering and that of other service providers, promises passengers a whole new experience, Mr Pearce said.

"The current technology is good for the occasional voice call, checking of your e-mail or for text messages. What it won't do is support a true broadband experience, for example, streaming of videos and offering the rich social networking experience people are now used to," he said.

Even as more airlines are offering in-flight connectivity to gain a competitive edge, surveys show passengers are divided in their views.

Insurance agent Rachel Wong, 48, said: "I wouldn't want to be on a flight with a beep or ring or some other funny sound going off every few seconds. But there's no stopping technology, so I guess I'll have to start packing ear plugs."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2016, with the headline 'SIA to boost in-flight Internet connection'. Print Edition | Subscribe