Having connectivity in the skies is a luxury to be sure, but it's often a slow one. Airlines block popular video services like Netflix and YouTube for fear that they'll cripple the already fragile in-flight networks and prevent everyone from checking their email, tweeting, or even just browsing the web. But through a new partnership with ViaSat, Virgin America seems to think it's got Wi-Fi internet that can handle more intensive tasks like video and audio streaming; you'll finally be able to treat internet on a plane just like your internet at home.
The speedier connectivity will go into 10 new A320 aircraft that Virgin will receive in September, and a beta pilot to test the faster service will get underway for select flights to Hawaii in early 2016. During that initial trial run, the new Wi-Fi will be free for Virgin America's travelers. "It uses Ka satellite across the domestic US. That will deliver speeds up to 30 times the speed of the original ATG that most airlines still fly, and 10 times what our current aircraft will do," David Cush, Virgin America's CEO, told CNBC.
"It's a dual antenna that also uses the Ku satellites across the pacific, so we can have a single antenna offer very fast Wi-Fi across the US and adequate Wi-Fi to Hawaii now." Cush described ViaSat's hybrid antenna as a "significant competitive advantage" for his airline. Some of Virgin's competitors are working to power their Wi-Fi with Ka satellites, but even then they're largely limited to offering connectivity on US routes. "No one really has the combination of Ka and Ku," he said. In these cases, seeing is believing, so we'll have to wait for some firsthand reports before knowing whether the new system delivers satisfactory speeds.