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Alaska Airlines Takes Off with Satellite-Based Wi-Fi Upgrade

Alaska Airlines Takes Off with Satellite-Based Wi-Fi Upgrade

In a move that will be welcomed by passengers, Alaska Airlines has announced it will upgrade its in-flight perks by offering satellite-based Wi-Fi. By the end of 2018, an estimated 40 to 50 Alaska Airlines and Virgin America planes will adopt Gogo In-flight Internet, which can deliver 20 times more bandwidth than a typical ground-based system.

But that’s not all. Alaska Airlines also announced it has begun providing free chat with Gogo Messaging Pass on Virgin America flights, adding a benefit already enjoyed by Alaska passengers. Virgin America is expected to fully integrate with Alaska Airlines by 2020.

Indeed, Alaska’s upgrades reflect a growing airline industry trend toward offering more dependable Wi-Fi connectivity and other associated perks — which is becoming increasingly important to remain a relevant brand. Here’s a closer look at this trend, what technology it involves and what it means for competition in today’s airline industry.

Industry Trends
In-flight Wi-Fi is becoming an increasingly common perk for airline passengers, although this technology still has a ways to go before it becomes universal. Last year, an estimated 39 percent of all airline passengers could connect to an in-flight Wi-Fi service, an increase of 8 percent from 2015. And several other airliners have plans to roll out in-flight Wi-Fi this calendar year.
As an added perk, airlines are also selling faster in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity to those interested in paying a bit more. Alaska’s upgrade to satellite Wi-Fi is one example of this — and Delta is also on board to offer the same Gogo In-flight Internet in the near future. Meantime, Singapore Airlines is also installing in-flight Wi-Fi on an increasing number of its flights.

Popular Platforms
Along with Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, satellite internet is also being adopted by Virgin Atlantic, Delta, American Airlines and Aeromexico. But Alaska’s adoption of satellite internet is also emblematic of another trend within the airline industry.

In particular, this technology is getting a boost by major wireless carriers as well. For instance, T-Mobile now offers one hour of free Gogo In-flight Internet, along with unlimited in-flight texting, photo messaging and access to T-Mobile Visual Voicemail, on Gogo-equipped flights.

Meantime, Boeing and Honeywell have joined forces to develop the next generation of high-speed, in-flight satellite Wi-Fi connectivity. And Deutsche Telekom has joined forces with Inmarsat to offer integrated in-flight and on-ground coverage, with its network expected to be adopted by British Airways later this year.

Competitive Implications
But it’s not all peaches and cream. Potential legal challenges are mounting between different airliners over the implementation of the European Aviation Network, an integrated 4G LTE ground and satellite network, to serve EU airports and airlines. As these challenges illustrate, the rise of satellite-based Wi-Fi is promoting competition between wireless providers and airliners.

Likewise, Alaska Airlines’ adoption of satellite internet follows in the footsteps of other airlines that have already adopted the technology or are in the process of doing so. As more airlines offer in-flight and satellite-based Wi-Fi, passengers will increasingly expect it, putting airlines that aren’t offering this connectivity at a competitive disadvantage.

Similarly, airlines will be increasingly pressed to differentiate themselves in the near future with added perks. For example, some are now offering in-flight services like Netflix, which is currently excluded from Southwest Airlines as well as some other airlines. But insiders say Netflix is looking to expand its in-flight streaming services to more airlines next year. Ultimately, airlines that can offer distinctive, in-demand services will hold a competitive edge as in-flight Wi-Fi adoption becomes the norm.