Date
24 September 2017
Air China has launched the world's first in-flight 4G WiFi service on its Beijing-Chengdu route. Photo: Bloomberg
Air China has launched the world's first in-flight 4G WiFi service on its Beijing-Chengdu route. Photo: Bloomberg

Free 4G WiFi at 30,000 feet

Long-haul flights can be quite a bore for some passengers, despite all those movie reruns as well as complimentary food and drinks on board. This is especially true for those who haven’t quite got the knack of catching some sleep while traveling. But this may soon be a thing of the past.

Last Wednesday, Air China (00753.HK) launched the world’s first in-flight 4G WiFi service on the Beijing-Chengdu route, allowing passengers to surf the internet at high speed — and for free. 

Using a combination of satellite and air-to-ground cell antennas similar to what’s used in mobile phone internet services, the trial service proved successful and drew positive responses from satisfied passengers.

Although mobile phones still need to be switched off during the flight, other electronic devices like tablets and laptops are allowed to be used. Passengers flying the route could stream movies, browse social network sites like Sina Weibo and Weixin, or even conduct video conferences with business partners or friends while 30,000 feet in the air.

ZTE Corp. (00753.HK) is the sole technology and equipment provider for Air China’s maiden 4G voyage.

Providing the service is no mean feat: there’s a bit of complication when you use WiFi aboard a plane that travels at high speed. ZTE had to solve the Doppler Effect and data exchange with ground stations as the receiver is flying over 1,000 kilometers per hour.

Fortunately, ZTE has had some experience in this area. Back in 2008, the Chinese telecommunication gear supplier collaborated with US chipmaker Qualcomm and India’s mobile network operator Aircel to form the listed company GOGO, which now provides in-flight internet service for nine US airlines.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]

CG

EJ Insight writer

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