Starlink made a deal with Hawaiian Airlines to fix in-flight Wi-Fi

SpaceX begins making deals with airlines to bring its Starlink satellite internet to air travelers around the world. It announced a deal on Monday with Hawaiian Airlines, and signed a similar deal last week with charter airline JSX. None of the parties involved shared the financial details of their deals, but both airlines did say they plan to offer in-flight Wi-Fi for free, which is both a semi-miraculous fact and a sign of hope that free Wi-Fi will come. becomes the industry standard. Delta, meanwhile, confirmed last week that it is conducting “exploratory” Starlink testing.

Onboard Wi-Fi has been on Team Starlink’s mind for a while now. Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s VP of Starlink and commercial sales, said last year that the company was building an aerospace product and was “in talks with several airlines.” It’s a natural place for the company to focus, really: In-flight Wi-Fi is a multi-billion dollar market and growing rapidly, and it’s currently dominated by Viasat and Gogo, two products no one would blame fast innovators. And perhaps best of all for Starlink, there are none of those pesky trees or buildings in the sky to get in the way! In the long run, there could be a lot of competition here, including from companies like OneWeb and Amazon, which are also heavily investing in satellite internet. But for now, the industry seems ripe for disruption.

In recent years, the company has been busy launching more satellites, seeking FCC approvals and expanding the ability to let satellites talk to each other without having to communicate with ground stations.

When it all comes together, Hofeller promised it would be a huge step forward in the speed and quality of in-flight Wi-Fi. (Starlink currently promises download speeds of up to 200 Mb/s for its terrestrial users.) If you’ve ever paid extra for “fast” internet on a flight, you know how loosely that term is used, so don’t beat your expectations too high. . And there’s still a lot of work to be done, both regulatory and product-wise, and even Starlink’s existing products have bugs and issues. But the current onboard bar is certainly low enough to make it easy for Starlink (or anyone else) to do better.

Airlines seem to be just as excited about the idea. Executives have repeatedly noted in recent years that passenger expectations are way ahead of available in-flight technology, and things are slowly starting to get better. Delta opened up some bandwidth to allow users to send messages in-flight, and JetBlue made in-flight Wi-Fi free for its passengers. But there’s still nothing even close to your home internet, or even what you’d get in a crowded coffee shop. SpaceX thinks Starlink could change that, and a number of airlines seem open to the idea.

And when is all this coming to your aisle seat? JSX said it is already testing the Starlink service and plans to roll it out to its fleet later this yearwhile Hawaiian Airlines said it is “in the early stages of implementation and expected”[s] to begin installing the product on select aircraft next year.” That’s a vague timeline, and companies owned by Elon Musk aren’t exactly known for meeting their deadlines. But it happens. And these probably aren’t the last airlines to look for a place to mount a Starlink antenna.

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