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.