The world of inflight Wi-Fi has been a source of frustration for years, with slow speeds, poor connectivity, and exorbitant prices. However, a recent test flight by JSX, a Dallas-based airline, revealed a game-changing development in this area. The airline has partnered with SpaceX to offer Starlink Wi-Fi, and initial tests showed that the service is fast and reliable, with speeds comparable to 4G and even 5G networks on the ground.
Unlike most inflight Wi-Fi systems, Starlink doesn’t require a password or sign-in screen. I delivered the service via a constellation of over 3,000 satellites orbiting just 350 miles up, which can pass the connection from one satellite to another as they travel overhead at over 17,000 miles an hour. During the test flight, speeds averaged 126Mbps for downloads and 7.6Mbps for uploads, with ping times of just 54 milliseconds.
This is a significant improvement over the speeds seen on traditional inflight Wi-Fi, which often rely on geostationary satellites orbiting 22,000 miles away. On a recent flight with United Airlines, the Speedtest app clocked average downloads of just 5.78Mbps, with uploads at 0.91Mbps, and ping times of 742ms.
Starlink’s performance can vary, and speeds during the test flight ranged from 14.7Mbps to a maximum of 260Mbps for downloads, with uploads ranging from 1.4Mbps to 15.7Mbps. However, these speeds are still impressive, especially when considering that the service is currently free. United Airlines charges $8 for Wi-Fi for members of its MileagePlus frequent-flier program, while American Airlines charges an exorbitant $15 per hour or $19 for the entire flight.
The potential of Starlink Wi-Fi goes beyond just fast speeds and low prices, however. While the FAA has yet to approve voice and video calls, JSX has shown that it will allow them once safety sign-offs are received. Since Starlink and other inflight Wi-Fi systems don’t use mobile frequencies, they aren’t subject to the Federal Communications Commission’s ban on cellular calls on aircraft. A Department of Transportation rule currently pending would only require carriers to disclose if they allow inflight calls.
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JSX’s partnership with SpaceX is a significant step forward for inflight Wi-Fi, which has long been a source of frustration for passengers. With speeds that rival those on the ground, fast and reliable connectivity, and the potential for voice and video calls, Starlink Wi-Fi has the potential to transform the airline industry. With JSX leading the way, it’s likely that other airlines will follow suit and adopt Starlink Wi-Fi, making it more widely available to passengers.