Inflight internet lives again: Qantas introduces wireless broadband, laptop power in all classes

A380 in Qantas livery: we can confirm this is officially a geek’s dream plane

Qantas’ new roo: or flying pterodactyl? Apparently Qantas was forced to redesign the logo to accommodate the position of a tailfin on the A380.

Laptop power will be available in every seat of Qantas’ new Airbus A380s from August 2008 the airline has announced. It is also retrofitting existing Boeing 747-400s with a new cabin type “premium economy” which will offer laptop power.

The retrofitted 747-400s will start going into service from February 2008 onwards.

However travellers lucky enough to score a flight on one of the 20 new A380s later in the year will even get laptop power in standard economy.

Perhaps of even greater importance Qantas says it will offer wireless internet throughout the A380s — even in economy — as well as web and email access via seat-back inflight entertainment systems if you don’t have a laptop with you.

Coinciding with a spruced-up logo featuring a more angular kangaroo doing a more springy hop than the old streamlined roo Qantas also said premium economy seats would feature USB and RJ45 (ethernet) ports.

The USB ports will be used for “viewing of content” on the inflight entertainment system though Qantas wouldn’t be drawn on whether that would include Divx video capability or the ability to connect an iPod. It would also allow recharging of USB-powered devices.

The Ethernet port is for laptops that don’t have wireless or for people who simply prefer an Ethernet connection over WiFi which could potentially become congested in an aircraft if inflight internet usage becomes popular.

USB and ethernet: located in the centre-console of international premium economy seats on the new Airbus A380

The companies behind Qantas’ inflight internet

Both the wireless and seat-back internet service will be provided by Airbus/SITA joint venture ONAIR. Although there is very little information available online about ONAIR an report from late last year included a comment from ONAIR CEO George Cooper who said he had one long-haul international customer that would be offering wireless data to GSM handhelds inflight as well as wireless broadband to laptops.

Qantas has announced a trial of offering data access to Blackberries and other GSM devices in the air and now that it has disclosed that it is using ONAIR for its wireless internet as well it seems likely that the airline referred to by Cooper was Qantas.

Qantas would not comment on pricing for the internet access but Cooper is quoted as saying that the unnamed carrier would offer “seatback instant messaging at a price of $5 for unlimited use throughout the flight. Web email will cost $8 per flight with attachments extra and there will be a measure of Internet access. Laptop users would have WiFi access to the Internet and VPNs.”

Worryingly though the report says that the broadband will be provided via Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband 432kbit/sec-per-channel service — a fairly slow link for a planeload of passengers which could equate to sub-dialup speeds per passenger unless the aircraft uses multiple satellite channels at once.

he new inflight system will be manufactured by Panasonic Avionics the company which announced with Apple that it would be offering integration with iPods inflight. Qantas declined to comment on whether it would include iPod capability on its planes but the inclusion of the USB port on every seat on the A380 suggests it will.

Qantas says the new seat-back systems will also offer 30 “PC style” games.

“Customers in every cabin will also be able to remain connected throughout their flight with wireless connectivity in-seat laptop power USB and RJ45 ports allowing them to surf the internet or send and receive emails directly from their seat or personal laptop” said Qantas marketing director John Borghetti.

When where and how much!

Premium economy will first appear on B747 services to London Hong Kong and Johannesburg from February 2008 with further routes being added following the introduction of A380 aircraft. Qantas said premium economy seats would cost about half of a business class ticket.

Premium Economy will be located on the main deck of B747 aircraft with 32 seats in a two-four-two configuration. On the A380 the cabin will be located on the upper deck with 32 seats in a two-three-two configuration.

Of course if money is no object you should check out the new Qantas first class which comes with 17″ wide-screen LCD TVs for every passenger. Business class passengers only get a “large” video monitor but it has “laptop connectivity” according to Qantas.

Premium economy: will be retrofitted into existing 747-400s as well as offered in new Airbus A380s

Key elements of Qantas’ Airbus A380 entertainment system

  • Available from August 2008
  • Wide screen monitors in all cabins with digital picture and sound quality;
  • Audio and video on demand with over 100 on demand movies 350 television selections 500 audio CDs 30 PC style games as well as a selection of audio books and radio channels;
  • Lonely Planet destination and arrival guides;
  • Language tutorials;
  • Deloitte Leadership Academy;
  • Online duty free shopping;
  • Moving maps text news and weather;
  • An “intuitive state-of-the-art” graphic user interface allowing customers to easily navigate through entertainment options or use the in-seat communications;
  • Wireless connectivity throughout the aircraft;
  • In-seat access to email and the internet telephone and SMS;
  • USB and RJ45 ports as well as PC power for all seats; and
  • An external camera giving a pilot’s eye view of take-off landing and cruising.
A380 first class: 17″ displays for everyone … all eight of you anyway. (Actually we have no idea how many seats there are in First but if Qantas wants to offer us a test flight we’ll report back.)

A380 economy: 18.5″ seat width USB ports RJ45 jack (we’re still waiting to hear from Qantas what they’ll actually be used for)

Economy self-serve snack bar: nothing to do with tech and yet everything to do with tech. Now that you have laptop power there are more waking hours in which you’ll need munchies.