Posts from the ‘OnAir’ Category
May 1st, 2012
Two Friday ago (20 April), talk of on-board Internet for Singapore Airlines (SIA) came through the Twitterverse, citing chatter by various reps in the industry with PR folks who have been briefed on the matter.
The low-down: Singapore Airlines to begin offering in-flight Internet connectivity on selected Airbus A380 and A340-500 aircraft.
Finally. The day has come! As a frequent flyer with SIA, it’s great to know that my airline-of-choice is finally offering this important service to its passengers. In today’s very-connected world of ours, having this option is more a “must” than a “should”.
SIA utilise the OnAir service
Some of you may already be familiar with OnAir, which currently provides in-flight communications capabilities — including cellular mobile telephony (Mobile OnAir) and broadband Internet access (Internet OnAir) — for a number of different commercial airlines (Air New Zealand, Emirates, Qantas, Qatar — to name a few).
The OnAir service utilises Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband service, which can deliver high-speed, high-capacity voice and data solutions throughout the four corners of the globe. SwiftBroadband provides for a link speed of up to 432 kbps, which, according to OnAir, “provides what passengers need” (the most popular web sites accessed over Internet OnAir are social networking, news and travel, or holiday sites).
OnAir for the Singapore Airlines fleet began operation on April 9, 2012, and is currently in service aboard seven different aircraft — including five Airbus A380s and two Airbus A340-500s.
Singapore Airlines has opted to equip the relevant hardware to support both mobile and Internet services. Currently, only the two Airbus A340-500 aircraft offer the full suite of capabilities, while the five Airbus A380s can only provision Internet at this point in time.
OnAir has confirmed that the Singapore (SIA) superjumbos will eventually get the Mobile OnAir hardware installed and “working” by the end of this year.
Other remaining (known) milestones for SIA-OnAir include:
- To have Mobile and Internet OnAir hardware equipped on their complete fleet of (3 remaining) Airbus A340-500s “by mid-year” (of 2012);
- To have Mobile and Internet OnAir hardware equipped on their Airbus A380 fleet by the end of 2012; and
- To have the OnAir product equipped on to the complete fleet of Boeing 777-300ER aircraft (19 in total) within the next two years.
How does it work?
On Singapore Airlines’ aircraft where Internet OnAir is available, Internet-capable devices — such as laptops, netbooks, smartphones and tablets — can connect to the service via Wi-Fi (wireless LAN).
Once a connection has been established with the OnAir wireless access point, start the web browser on the device and the OnAir information pages should load:
From here, select a usage plan (or subscription) that’s suitable base on the required data allowance. Take note that any extra data usage exceeding the included allowance will be charged in addition, based on the cost/s listed under the ‘Optional Charges’ column.
Once that nerve-racking decision has been made, click/tap the ‘Next’ button, and the system will ask for, and take, your credit card details for payment. When approved, a temporary username and password will be provided to you, and the broadband Internet service becomes available for the remaining duration of the flight.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about that CAT5 (network cable) socket on the KrisWorld system — don’t bother trying. It doesn’t work with the OnAir system.
The baseline requirement here is a GSM-compatible handset, with mobile operator SIM card inserted, that has the international roaming service turned on.
(If you have a CDMA-only handset, then you may be out of luck here.)
On those aircraft that have Mobile OnAir available, the next step is simply a matter of turning the phone on and let it search for an available network to connect to. Once logged in, available services may include voice calls, messaging, and even mobile data (which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone using, unless absolutely necessary).
And just like when you go to another country, usage will be charged at the international roaming rates by your home mobile operator. The same concept applies with Mobile OnAir.
How much will it cost to use?
Subscriptions are priced by the individual airline offering the service. With Singapore Airlines, they have chosen a rather steep set of prices!
A US$11.95 subscription will buy you 10MB of data, and US$29.95 for a whopping 26MB!
It may seem that SIA has chosen to indirectly curb the number of users accessing the Internet OnAir service with these rates, as they are clearly not the most attractive (when compared to what Emirates is asking for!)
(Wishing you were on an Emirates flight after reading that? You’re not alone!)
Unlike Internet OnAir, where OnAir is responsible for taking money from your credit card, it is your home mobile operator that will be billing you for any costs incurred whilst utilising the Mobile OnAir service. Usage prices can also vary between the mobile operators — hence, it is wise to check those rates prior to use.
How long does an Internet OnAir subscription last for?
According to Singapore Airlines, “a subscription is only available on the flight sector on which it was purchased”.
In plain English, it means the purchased subscription will stop working after the current airborne flight descends and lands at the next destination.
Most SIA flights are non-stop, which means the service will last for the entire duration.
However, on flights with a stopover (before proceeding to the final destination), a subscription purchased on the first flight (or leg) would not be usable on the subsequent one.
For example, SIA flight SQ26 operates the Singapore-Frankfurt-New York route on an Airbus A380. If a passenger purchases an Internet OnAir subscription during the Singapore-Frankfurt leg, it would only be usable until s/he reaches Frankfurt. Should the same passenger want Internet access for the latter remaining flight (in this case, Frankfurt-New York), then a brand new subscription purchase will be required.
Can I use multiple devices with a single subscription?
Remember the part where I talked about a temporary username and password is provided to you upon successful payment?
Well, those access details actually give you the ability to use your subscription on different devices — say, for example, with your iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air — which, unlike hotels that remembers a device’s unique MAC address (or Wi-Fi card‘s ID), doesn’t restrict you to using a single device, and offers the ultimate flexibility in making full use of your remaining megabytes.
There is one, but obvious, caveat: A single subscription cannot be actively used on more than one device at any given time. Fair enough.
On which flights is OnAir possibly available?
Below is a compiled list of the Singapore Airlines flights that are flying the relevant aircraft with the OnAir service:
Airbus A340-500 (possible Internet OnAir + Mobile OnAir accessibility):
- SQ22/SQ21 : Singapore – New York (EWR)
- SQ38/SQ37 : Singapore – Los Angeles
Airbus A380 (possible Internet OnAir accessibility):
- SQ12/SQ11 : Singapore – Tokyo (Narita) – Los Angeles
- SQ26/SQ25 : Singapore – Frankfurt – New York (JFK)
- SQ308/SQ319 : Singapore – London Heathrow (effective 01JUN12)
- SQ318/SQ321 : Singapore – London Heathrow
- SQ322/SQ317 : Singapore – London Heathrow
- SQ334/SQ333 : Singapore – Paris
- SQ346/SQ345 : Singapore – Zurich
- SQ856/SQ861 : Singapore – Hong Kong
For the following Airbus A380 flights, the service may not be available due to regulatory restrictions:
- SQ221/SQ232 : Singapore – Sydney
- SQ227/SQ228 : Singapore – Melbourne
- SQ231/SQ222 : Singapore – Sydney
Accessibility of the OnAir service/s
In theory, OnAir functions virtually anywhere on Earth (wherever a link to the Inmarsat satellite can be established).
However, in geographical locations where regulatory approval has not been granted (for use of OnAir), the service becomes unavailable until it either enters airspace of an OnAir-service-approved country, or when the aircraft is flying over the ocean (international waters).
Note that there are two maps in the above picture: one showing the countries (or airspace) where the Internet OnAir service can be used (top map); and the other, similarly, where the Mobile OnAir service is usable (bottom map).
Australia/Oceania (excluding New Zealand) and the United States are the two remaining zones where approval for OnAir’s services have yet to be granted.
However, according to OnAir:
- Internet capability is expected to be available for offer in Australia and the US sometime during the second half of 2012; and
- Cellular (GSM) based services should be available for passengers flying to/from Australia by the end of 2012 to early 2013.
If you should be flying on either the Airbus A340-500 or A380, you can find these maps towards the very back of the KrisWorld in-flight magazine.
I’m somewhat glad that SIA has chosen to remain mum with their slight-but-new passenger experience upgrade on the more-important aircraft in their fleet — as it offers an opportunity (for me) to study and gain a further understanding of the deployment.
(And because of the continual roll-out of the service on the different aircraft, it is possibly this reason alone that Singapore Airlines has chosen to not make a huge fuss about it — again, understandable.)
While the Airbus A340-500 services the world’s two longest non-stop routes, in pure Business Class style, their A380 high-density aircraft moves countless passengers to far-away destinations. In both these cases, adding the ability for two-way communications, in the form of cellular mobile and Internet accessibility, can only benefit the overall passenger experience factor of the product.
And let’s not forget that SIA will also be deploying the OnAir system on their entire fleet of 19 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, which — albeit a two-year timeframe for completion — will provide their complete long-haul fleet with a new level of service and experiential consistency.