Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Emirates sees a future of free Wi-Fi

More than 3,500 passengers used Wi-Fi on Emirates in October

In the first three years since Emirates launched inflight Wi-Fi connectivity, more than half a million passengers have used the service and this demand is expected to increase exponentially, said the airline, in a recent release.

Onboard Wi-Fi is available on all of Emirates’ 53 A380s and on 28 777s. The airline also has an aggressive retrofit program that will eventually see its entire fleet Wi-Fi enabled. Emirates is subsidizing or waiving the high cost of buying data for passenger use and is investing US$20 million annually in Wi-Fi for the passengers. However, the airline’s CEO predicted the service would one day be free of change throughout the flight.

On most Emirates flights equipped with Wi-Fi, passengers can use the first 10 megabytes of data for free, which the airline says is enough for most travelers to check in on their social media accounts. Subsequently, US$1 charge is imposed for the next 600 megabytes. Emirates is updating its software programming to eventually enable passengers to have unlimited free access to Wi-Fi.

“It is a fact that our customers want onboard connectivity, and this demand is only going to increase as more people embrace an ‘always-on’ digital lifestyle, and carry smart mobile devices when they travel. We’ve always viewed Wi-Fi as a service and a value-added part of Emirates’ overall product, rather than a revenue stream,” said Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates.

He added: “If we can offer good quality Wi-Fi connections for everyone on board at no charge tomorrow, we will do it. But we face a slew of technical limitations – from speed and bandwidth availability and cost, to the supporting hardware and software – all of which we are working hard to address with the industry right now. Ultimately, we believe that onboard Wi-Fi will become a free service, and a standard that customers will expect on a full service airline, just like on board refreshments and personal inflight entertainment.”

On a few of its A380s and 777s, the airline says it is not currently possible to offer the first 10 megabytes free for technical reasons. Emirates is working to resolve the issue in the coming months.

In October, Emirates saw a daily average of 3,500 passengers using on board Wi-Fi, at an average of 28 megabytes per user. The highest number of Wi-Fi users on a single Emirates flight was recorded on an A380 with 153 passengers connecting, and the highest Internet volume recorded on a single flight was nearly 8,000 megabytes from 26 users onboard a 777 flight. The airline saw a 200% spike in Wi-Fi usage in the month of October, due to a free Wi-Fi promotion to mark the Eid holidays.

The promotion heightened travelers’ awareness of the facility on board, resulting in a lot of first time users connecting and positive customer feedback.