Ever Wondered… How Does In-Flight WiFi Work?

By: Zabaish Anwar

Ever wonder how you’re able to use the Internet 40,000 feet above the ground? Well, that is something that confuses us and keeps us in suspense as well. But here’s knowing as to how in-flight Wi-Fi keeps you connected. Having to put your devices on airplane mode—or turn them off entirely—while on an airplane is frustrating, especially when you’re on a business trip and need to stay in touch with the office or are flying with kids on a long-haul journey. It’d be great if you could keep using the Internet as you make your way from here to there. But do airplanes have Wi-Fi and can you use the Internet on an airplane?
The answer to this question depends on the airline, your travel route, and the model of the aircraft, but for all intents and purposes, yes, you can use the Internet on many airplanes, thanks to the in-flight Wi-Fi. And the number of airlines offering in-flight Wi-Fi is increasing rapidly with demand. You may need to book directly with the airline, and some operators require a single-use pass or package from a provider such as Gogo. This is also a useful option if you fly frequently with different airlines. The price is usually higher for greater bandwidth, but if you need to get work done midair, it may be worth the investment. Otherwise, your time is just as well spent reading a book, taking a snooze, or gazing out the airplane window.
How does in-flight Wi-Fi work?

There are two operating systems for airplane Wi-Fi: ground-based and satellite. Air-to-ground Wi-Fi works in a way similar to your cell phone. An airplane has an antenna located underneath its body, which links up with cell towers. As the aircraft travels, it simply connects to the nearest transmitter on a rolling basis.The airplane becomes a hot spot, so passengers can do everything they would normally do when connected to the Internet, including sending emails, making calls, and even streaming movies. But this system can’t work when the plane is flying over large expanses of water, like on transatlantic routes. That’s where the satellite comes in. Satellite Wi-Fi uses a network of orbiting satellites to allow a connection. The satellite is linked to ground stations, and the airplane connects using a satellite antenna on the top of the aircraft. The plane uses whichever satellite is nearest as it travels. Satellite Wi-Fi operates on two different bandwidths: narrowband and broadband. Both allow passengers full Internet access, although narrowband is less suitable for streaming movies.Now more and more airlines are making in-flight Wi-Fi available, so you can stay connected midair. Airlines will typically let travelers know about in-flight Wi-Fi when they buy plane tickets and again once boarding or onboard the aircraft. It usually involves turning your device’s Airplane mode on, then finding the in-flight Wi-Fi in the Wi-Fi settings or in a web browser.There may be certain times when the Wi-Fi connection isn’t strong enough mid-flight, making it harder to connect or stream. Additionally, certain planes may not be equipped with the antennae needed for Wi-Fi. Fortunately, in the near future, in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity is poised to improve across the board. Technology such as Gogo’s 2Ku system is steadily improving reliability, which is enabling more airlines to introduce Wi-Fi for both domestic and international flights.




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