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Qatar passengers get a Super WiFi treat

Posted 2 July 2018 · Add Comment

Qatar Airways has become the first Middle Eastern carrier to offer Inmarsat’s Ka-band GX Aviation (GX) satellite-based in-flight connectivity service to its passengers. Arabian Aerospace technology editor, Steve Nichols, explains the significance.

Super WiFi’ is the name that Qatar Airways is giving to its new, faster, GX in-flight connectivity service, which could offer speeds up to 100 times faster than currently exist.
Qatar’s intention is to install GX across all of its flagship fleet. The company has said that the service will be available to passengers on board more than 130 of its aircraft.
GX hardware, including a fuselage-mounted antenna from Honeywell Aerospace, has already been equipped as line-fit and is being activated on Qatar Airways’ latest Airbus A350s. GX provides global coverage (apart from the poles) from four Inmarsat-owned geostationary satellites.
Following supplemental type certification approval, installations on a retrofit basis are also currently taking place across the airline’s Boeing 777 fleet.
The retrofits have been undertaken by Qatar Airways maintenance teams during scheduled C-check maintenance windows.
Ben Griffin, Inmarsat Aviation vice president, Middle East, Africa and South Asia said: “A total of nine A350-900s and one A350-1000 have been now delivered to Qatar Airways with GX as line-fit.
“Seventeen Qatar Boeing 777s have also now been retrofitted with GX, with a variable installation rate for the rest. Generally, one is being retrofitted at any given time.”
Griffin confirmed that GX is now active on part of the fleet and is being provided to passengers free (for now). Qatar is still to decide when it will start charging.
“GX is performing extremely well on the fleet and ‘as advertised’,” said Griffin. “We are seeing strong take-up rates with high levels of consumption, exactly as we’d expect from the calibre of passengers flying on Qatar Airways. They expect the best levels of service from all aspects of their in-flight experience.”
One journalist reported that the Inmarsat GX system didn’t work properly when he tried it on the first Airbus A350-1000 delivery flight to Doha, Qatar, from Airbus in Toulouse, France.
The reality was that the GX system had not been activated on the aircraft and passengers had actually been using the aircraft’s much slower Inmarsat SwiftBroadband (SBB) connectivity. SBB is used as backup and for cockpit and air traffic control operations.
So why is GX so much quicker than SwiftBroadband?
Inmarsat GX uses much higher Ka-band frequencies with its satellites, which means data throughputs are in the region of 30-50 megabits per second (Mbps), compared with 432kbps with the L-band SwiftBroadband – up to a 100x speed increase.
The confusion came before the A350-1000 flight after Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker, had praised the aircraft for having “the best Wi-Fi” available. A case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing.
I tested GX on a Lufthansa flight over Europe in March 2017. Then the slowest recorded download speed (to the aircraft) was 1.4Mbps and the fastest seen was 14.2Mbps. The average speed to the aircraft was around 10Mbps, while the average speed off the aircraft (when uploading files) was around 5Mbps.
When fully implemented, Qatar Airways says the first hour access will be free, and a $10 plan can be purchased for the full flight with unlimited data downloads.
The airline said there are no restrictions on the paid-for plan, but voice over internet (VOIP) calls are restricted for passengers’ comfort.
Speaking at the 2017 Connected Aircraft eEnablement Conference, Babar Rahman, head of global sponsorships, CSR and IFEC, Qatar Airways, said: “Ground technologies are growing faster than satellite-based technologies, so we won’t have the same speeds as a ground network, but we will get close to the experience passengers are used to.
“Connectivity will allow us to do a lot of things that you never thought were possible as eEnablement and a broadband pipe to the ground can bring a lot of benefits.
“We have a lot of stakeholders within Qatar that are looking at the possibilities with eEnablement.”
 

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