United Airlines brings Wi-Fi to long haul flights

United Airline becomes the first from the US to offer wireless connectivity using Ku-band satellite technology on long haul flights

United Airlines has fitted its first overseas aircraft with Wi-Fi, enabling long haul travellers to stay connected in the air.

United Airlines has kitted out a Boeing 747, which flies both trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific routes, with Ku-band satellite technology provided by Panasonic Avionics.

This type of connection uses a specific frequency slightly below the C band – used for satellite television – which can enable powerful connections with much smaller antenna to pick up the signal and also avoids interference with more common wireless applications.

United has installed the same technology onto two Airbus 319 aircrafts to provide Wi-Fi on domestic flights, which offers much faster speeds that the current crop of air-to-ground in-flight connections, and hopes to roll it out to its 300 mainline vehicles by the end of 2013.

"Satellite-based Wi-Fi service enables us to better serve our customers and offer them more of what they want in a global airline," said Jim Compton, vice-chairman and chief revenue officer at United. "With this new service, we continue to build the airline that customers want to fly with."

Those customers will have to pay for the privilege though. United will offer two speeds at different price tiers, meaning the user will need to pay more for a faster connection. The "standard" speed price tag will range between $3.99 and $14.99, with the "accelerated" tariff coming in between $5.99 and $19.99, depending on the length of the flight.

We contacted United to find out what speeds would actually be offered, but it had not returned our request at the time of publication.  

The Wi-Fi is part of a $550m upgrade the airline is going through, which will include new entertainment systems streaming video on the Boeing 747-400 fleet and expanding legroom in Economy Plus.

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