As I write this right now, I’m over the coast of southern India, about 41,000ft in the air on an Emirates Airbus A380. But I’m not disconnected from the world; the ‘net up here is actually quite fast.
(A little disclaimer: to be honest, I wrote this at about 10:30pm Sydney time on Wednesday night, about four hours into my flight. But I scheduled the post to go live at 8.30am this Thursday morning so you’d all actually see it.)
Emirates isn’t the only airline that has inflight Wi-Fi and inflight Internet, but it’s one of the few that gets it right in my experience. The ‘net is so cheap that it may as well be free, and despite the 450-plus passengers distributed throughout economy, business and first classes on each A380 it generally deals well with basic tasks and isn’t unusably slow or laggy.
On a long-haul, 13-hour intercontinental flight like the Dubai to Sydney route that I’m on, having inflight internet is really quite useful. The ‘net access switched on around half an hour after take-off, so I hooked up both my smartphone and my laptop. When you’re paying just $1 per 500MB of data on Emirates, and that $1 goes entirely to a charity anyway, you’d be forgiven for wanting to connect a dozen times over.
With a Speedtest.net result of 400ms it’s not the most responsive ‘net that I’ve used, but it’s far from the slowest (capped ADSL, anyone?). At a few different points throughout the flight so far I’ve clocked around about an average of 500Kbps downloads and 800Kbps uploads — not video streaming territory, but more than enough for answering emails, for chatting, and for a little bit of Web browsing.
Case in point is the fact that I wrote this story into the Gizmodo CMS without any errors, I uploaded a couple of screenshots to suit (although I was careful about the size) and sent it off into the ether successfully. I also just took care of Thursday’s App Deals round-up to make the day’s workload a little bit easier once I get off the plane and into the office.
But more than that, it’s just the fact that despite being in a goddamn airplane more than 10 kilometres up in the sky, I can wish my girlfriend goodnight over Telegram. I can convince a friend over Viber that she should buy a bottle of wine on the way home because she’s had a long day. I can talk with Giz’s other travelling editor Luke over Google Chat, while he checks out of his hotel in Barcelona and heads to the airport for his three-leg journey home (ouch, sorry buddy) — with a carrier competing with Emirates that charges $22 for 100MB of inflight ‘net, if I recall.
It works for text and voice, too — you can send an SMS or make a phone call at international roaming rates. I said hi to my mum over text just because I could. The little welcome SMS you get from Emirates even encourages everyone to switch their phone to silent, because really, sitting on this Airbus is no different to an actual bus. You can get texts and calls just the same, and a little bit of etiquette probably goes a long way. (By the way — no, there’s no roaming data; you’ll need Wi-Fi for that.)
It’s not perfect, obviously. For a portion of the trip, like the first segment of flying across India, the inflight ‘net shut down because the country over which the plane is travelling doesn’t allow or support the specific technology used. At the start of the flight, when everyone in the entire plane rushed to connect to it simultaneously, both the initial connection and the transfer speed was grindingly slow. At other times, it’s definitely adequate.
But for sending emails, keeping in touch with loved ones and friends through social media and messaging apps, and even running a technology website, it’s a godsend. When every plane has it, we’ll be living in the future.
Campbell Simpson traveled to Dubai as a guest of Emirates. This article is part of a feature series looking behind the scenes at Emirates’ base of operations in its home city, exploring its engineering, catering and network flight control facilities.