Why airlines need smarter broadband technology

The call to “switch all portable electronic devices to airplane mode” usually prompts weary sighs from passengers – and no wonder. Losing internet access between take-off and landing is difficult for air travellers used to ‘always-on’ mobile broadband, and not just because those flying for business may struggle to work on board without it.

No internet also means no access to the digital distractions passengers have come to depend on for filling downtime. Seatback screens, books and magazines all offer some respite on longer flights, but they’re no substitute for the smartphones and tablets we now favour for everything from browsing the web to social media.

92% of passengers want broadband

That passengers want access to fast and reliable inflight broadband should be no surprise, but there’s evidence to back it up. Inmarsat’s 2016 survey of more than 9,000 passengers across 27 countries around the world, was carried out with market research company GfK and found that:

  • 92% of passengers wanted inflight broadband
  • 83% already chose their airlines based on its availability
  • 54% of passengers would choose to be able to stay online during a flight over a meal

Always-on broadband is now a given at home and at work, but the massive uptake of smartphones and the widespread availability of high-speed 4G mobile networks mean passengers now expect the same on the move.

That perhaps explains why 35% of passengers bring two devices on board, and 34% bring three – the smartphones, tablets and laptops used freely on the ground are also what they want in the air. So much so that traditional inflight entertainment doesn’t get a look in, with just 16% of those surveyed expressing an interest.

Broadband reliability trumps all else

Although broadband is already available on many flights, it does not have the capacity to meet passengers’ needs, and they often find existing systems slow and difficult to use. When available, one in 10 couldn’t connect at all, according to our survey.

Ten per cent of frustrated would-be web browsers doesn’t sound like much, but what do 75% of all passengers want from inflight broadband? Reliability. It’s valued more than speed (19%) and even price (6%), though cost is still a common complaint, particularly when coupled with substandard performance. Even so, more than 60% of passengers were prepared to pay for internet access on long and short-haul flights.

Better connections bring competitive edge


Airlines are already able to meet these needs with next-generation inflight broadband that combines vastly improved reliability with much greater bandwidth. This puts a wide range of services at the passengers’ disposal – like seamless web browsing or watching live TV. All frustration-free and all with the smartphones, tablets and laptops they already bring on board. And these services aren’t limited to domestic flights. This technology covers the globe, not just select high-altitude hotspots.

So with passengers craving high-performance inflight broadband and current technology failing to deliver, there’s a clear opportunity for early-adopters to gain a competitive advantage.

That’s certainly the view of Inmarsat Aviation President Leo Mondale: “Demand for broadband in the sky has reached such unprecedented levels around the world that airlines, as well as those in the business aviation and aircraft lessor markets, need to meet passenger expectations or risk losing out to their competitors.”broadband service to boost passenger levels and avoid losing out to their competitors.

Complete the form below if you would like to download Inmarsat’s white paper on inflight connectivity.

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