Telstra trials in-flight 4G between Sydney and Melbourne

12 May 2014

Telstra may finally be giving business jerks and Snapchat-addicted teens the in-flight internet access they’ve been hoping for, with trials of its on-board 4G broadband service underway.

The telco has been testing out its unfortunately-named Telstra 'Skinet' over the main commercial route between Melbourne and Sydney, at heights of 30,000 feet.

Telstra has mounted special antennas to existing network towers along the route in order to deliver broadband signals to its test aircraft, which include a twin-propeller plane and a private Cessna jet.

Testing has resulted in consistent data speeds of up to 15 Mbps, with an average of 10Mbps – speeds that will allow passengers to easily browse the web, download media and send and receive emails.

Telstra’s executive director Mike Wright told AFR, that, having overcome engineering hurdles to make high-speed cellular data available on board flights, the telco will soon be looking at securing spectrum to use for the service.

The tests have so far utilised spectrum on the 5MHz band, with more trials planned for later in the year.

Affordable internet in the air

The trials are a forward-thinking move from Telstra , with reliable in-flight connectivity hard to come by (and frequently expensive).

It’s not just a problem for Australian travellers; currently, American wireless operator AT&T is working on its own in-flight LTE service, with expectations to make it available late next year for domestic US passengers.

If Telstra can continue to deliver successful tests and generate enough interest from airlines and passengers, the telco might finally be able to offer the public in-flight internet that’s both fast and affordable.

Despite a promising start, frequent flyers shouldn’t get too excited just yet: Telstra estimates that the service is around two years away from a public launch.

Regulatory approval – and the participation of airlines – will be required before ‘Skinet’ is up and flying.

Image credit: James at Flickr

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