Airbus SE, Delta Air Lines, Inc., Sprint Corp. and two US satellite-services providers have kicked off an initiative to enhance Internet access on airliners, inviting other companies to join voluntary efforts to upgrade global standards for airborne connectivity.
The concept, still in its early stages, likely will require time to gain traction and develop necessary hardware and software changes. It also hinges on technical approvals from government regulators and aviation groups, along with overcoming traditional rivalries between wireless and satellite-services companies.
But if enough carriers, plane makers, communications providers and equipment suppliers eventually sign on, it could usher in an entirely new approach to airborne connectivity: faster speeds plus an improved user experience because passengers wouldn’t have to pay separately for broadband services on board.
A group calling itself the Seamless Air Alliance spelled out benefits of the potential changes on Sunday in Barcelona in conjunction with the opening of the Mobile World Congress, the annual gathering of the telecommunications industry. Mobile operators world-wide would be able to extend service directly into airliner cabins, allowing passengers to use their phones, tablets or other devices to seamlessly connect to the web while airborne.
As envisioned by proponents, connections would be available for an array of devices using various mobile networks just the way Wi-Fi hot spots now work on the ground. Connection speeds, rivaling the fastest cable access, would be comparable with those expected with widespread rollout of commercial fifth-generation, or 5G, cellular service across the US.
For passengers, extra benefits would be avoiding the time, and sometimes frustration, of having to authenticate devices and use credit cards to pay for them before logging on during flights.
In addition to Sprint, the No. 4 mobile carrier in the US by subscribers, the alliance includes New Delhi-based Bharti Airtel Ltd., which operates mobile networks in 16 countries across Asia and Africa.