Will you pay for improved in-flight Wi-Fi service?

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Directed by Jiang Xiaowei. Shot by Jiang Xiaowei. Edited by Jiang Xiaowei. Subtitles by Jiang Xiaowei and Yang Jian.

Frequent business traveler Li Mu now feels enriched and more entertained during the two-hour flight from Shanghai to Beijing.

On a recent trip, he attended an online conference, had a video chat, and watched short videos on Douyin (Chinese version of TikTok), thanks to the optimized in-flight Wi-Fi service on the China Eastern flight. Airlines MU5101.

Due to the extended bandwidth, videos ran smoothly on his cell phone even in high definition mode throughout the plane trip.

“Previously, the in-flight Wi-Fi service only allowed WeChat messages. It would take several minutes to open a web page,” Li recalls. “So I preferred to take a two-hour nap.”

Shanghai-based airlines China Eastern and Juneyao have improved the bandwidth and speed of their in-flight Wi-Fi services. Ninety-seven China Eastern dual-aisle airliners, out of its total fleet of 750, have been fitted with the new Wi-Fi network.

Using China’s new Asia-Pacific 6D satellite, the highest online browsing speed can reach 220Mbps, almost equivalent to 4G communication on the ground and about 10 times faster than the previous wireless internet service in the air.

It is fast enough that every passenger in the cabin can watch videos simultaneously on popular streaming platforms, such as Bilibili and Douyin, said Zhang Chi, general manager of KDlink Technology Co, which was jointly established by China Eastern, Juneyao and China Telecom to focus on new in-flight Wi-Fi technologies.

The company’s recently launched in-flight Wi-Fi lab, the largest of its kind in China, in Shanghai’s suburban Qingpu district, is behind the major technology breakthrough.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Zhang Chi (right), managing director of KDlink Technology Co, tests the enhanced Wi-Fi service with a senior engineer from the in-flight Wi-Fi lab.

Chinese carriers’ in-flight Wi-Fi services have long lagged behind their US and European counterparts. The internet connection has become essential, even in the air, especially after the COVID-19 epidemic, as an increasing number of services are now available on mobile devices.

China Eastern became the first domestic carrier to launch in-flight internet connection in 2014 on the same flight Li takes between Shanghai and Beijing.

Since then, a total of 213 planes from 11 airlines have offered in-cabin Wi-Fi services, usually free for first-class travelers and paid for other passengers. Members can redeem their miles for the service. (Most of the other airlines claiming to offer “Wi-Fi” service are in fact local networks only connected to the aircraft’s entertainment database.)

The number is insignificant compared to the nearly 4,000 passenger planes in the country. Only 5% of the country’s fleet is now equipped with Wi-Fi, with China Eastern and Juneyao accounting for half.

By comparison, the three US airline giants – Delta, United and American – have up to 90% of their fleets covered by Wi-Fi services.

Although China Eastern, as a forerunner among domestic airlines, has provided internet connection for around 240,000 flights since 2014, the service has suffered from key issues such as low speed and high cost.

When more than 100 passengers connected their devices to the cabin routers, the speed of the Internet could bring them back to the era of switched networks.

Will you pay for improved in-flight Wi-Fi service?

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Engineer tests in-flight Wi-Fi services in laboratory

It was therefore urgent and essential for China to have its own in-flight Wi-Fi service research organization, according to Zhang. He led the setup of the lab in April 2021.

“In-flight internet connection is also a key project in the digital transformation of the civil aviation sectors of China Eastern and China,” he added.

The local lab simulates the cabin environment in the air and tests Wi-Fi equipment before it is installed on airliners.

Some 120 smartphones, tablets and other common devices are connected to the in-flight servers of around eight major global service providers, including Airbus, FTS, Panasonic, Donica and China Electronics Technology Group Co. High definition films or applications are underway reading. simultaneously on devices.

Engineers in the lab can develop and complete tests on two new applications based on Wi-Fi services. They have upgraded five key hardware developments that enable rapid online navigation in the air.

Besides internet services, engineers are also developing digital applications for cabin services, entertainment and other in-flight programs, Zhang noted.

Remote medical treatment, for example, will become possible thanks to accelerated on-board Wi-Fi. Field medical experts can diagnose via high-definition video chat and guide flight attendants to perform first aid.

“Timely medical rescue is vital for patients who suffer from acute airborne illnesses, especially heart disease,” said Zhao Wei, deputy secretary general of the Shanghai League of Volunteer Physicians.

Will you pay for improved in-flight Wi-Fi service?

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A senior engineer adjusts and tests nationally developed Wi-Fi equipment.

The league, initiated in 2015, has more than 1,500 members, mainly senior doctors and young medical experts from Shanghai hospitals. China Eastern has cooperated with the league to improve its in-flight first aid service to passengers.

More than 800 medics have voluntarily joined the program, assisting crew members in urgent medical cases.

Aviation safety can also be ensured through the continuous internet connection throughout the flight. Operational data from every part of the aircraft, such as the engine, will be shared in real time with air traffic controllers and engineers on the ground.

In the event of a malfunction, such as shutting down one of the engines, the ground support team can offer immediate suggestions within minutes to avoid an air disaster.

Despite the pandemic, the number of domestic air travelers is expected to reach 1.4 billion by 2035, providing unprecedented development opportunities for the in-flight connectivity service, revealed Xin Xudong, deputy general manager of the service unit. client of Commercial Aircraft Corp of China, or COMAC.

The C919, the first narrow-body aircraft developed in China by COMAC, was fitted with China’s in-flight Wi-Fi facilities.

With the support of the lab, air travelers are expected to enjoy high-speed in-flight Wi-Fi service on the C919, which China Eastern will be the inaugural operator, said Zhang Yinghui, vice director of the airlines cabin business department. aerial.

The airline now charges 50 yuan ($ 7.8) or 2,500 mileage points for fast Wi-Fi service on a flight. The service is free for first and business class passengers.

So the question is: Do you feel like paying for Wi-Fi service during your flight?

Will you pay for improved in-flight Wi-Fi service?

Ti Gong

A traveler from China Eastern is having a video chat with the enhanced onboard Wi-Fi service.

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