Emirates President reveals desire to offer free, high-speed onboard Wi-Fi


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Emirates President shares vision to offer free onboard Wi-Fi
Emirates currently offers onboard Wi-Fi on 53 A380s and 28 Boeing 777s, and plans to roll the service out across its entire fleet.

Sir Tim Clarke, President of Emirates Airline, has outlined his desire for the carrier to offer free, high-quality onboard Wi-Fi as standard, but concedes that doing so is currently unrealistic because of a “slew of technical limitations”.

The Dubai-based carrier has offered in-flight Wi-Fi for three years and the service is available on 53 A380s and 28 Boeing 777s, while the airline has a retrofit plan in place, which will eventually see all of its aircraft Wi-Fi enabled.

“It is a fact that our customers want onboard connectivity, and this demand is only going to increase as more people embrace an ‘always-on’ digital lifestyle, and carry smart mobile devices when they travel. We’ve always viewed Wi-Fi as a service and a value-added part of Emirates’ overall product, rather than a revenue stream,” Clarke explained.

“If we can offer good quality Wi-Fi connections for everyone onboard at no charge tomorrow, we will do it. But we face a slew of technical limitations – from speed and bandwidth availability and cost, to the supporting hardware and software – all of which we are working hard to address with the industry right now. Ultimately, we believe that onboard Wi-Fi will become a free service, and a standard that customers will expect on a full service airline, just like onboard refreshments and personal in-flight entertainment. Emirates is leading the way on this, and we are working closely with our suppliers and various stakeholders towards this vision.”

Emirates is said to invest around $20 million per year on installing, operating and maintaining its in-flight connectivity systems, and it offers 10MB of data for free to each passenger, with the next 600MB charged at just $1. Figures revealed by the carrier show that in October 2014, a daily average of 3,500 passengers used the onboard Wi-Fi service, at an average of 28MB per user. The most frequently visited websites were Google, Facebook and chat services, such as WhatsApp.

Emirates’ approach to onboard Wi-Fi and its desire to offer a high-quality service for free across its fleet is certainly admirable, and from a passenger experience perspective it could make a huge difference if more carriers adopted a similar mindset. However, with multi-million dollar annual costs and technical limitations still posing problems, it looks like widespread, free, high-bandwidth onboard Wi-Fi as standard is still some time away.