Intercontinental In-Flight Internet Is Slowing Down

Back in 2011 I had my first intercontinental in-flight Internet experience over satellite on a flight from New York to Europe. Back then I found the service extremely fast with sustained downlink speeds of 2.5 Mbit/s and 500 kbit/s in uplink. And this was 2011 when terrestrial 3G with similar speeds was the new kid on the block. Since then, things have unfortunately not improved.

Over the years I noticed a continuing slow down. In a post I wrote last year (2016), downlink speeds were down to a megabit/s and in the uplink I could barely get a hundred kilobits per second. At the same time, the size of web pages has increased significantly and people are used to much higher speeds while using LTE networks. When I recently flew to Singapore, downlink speeds were somewhere between 150-300 kbit/s and uplink speeds were even lower than that. In other words there is a widening gap between available data rates and user requirements.

Which makes me wonder why speeds are going down!? Internet connectivity on my flight was not cheap, even in business class it cost 21 USD for the whole flight so it is likely that not too many people took up the offer. Which really makes me wonder where the bottleneck is? Are airlines limiting bandwidth per plane or are the geostationary satellites just not able anymore to cope with the demand from the many planes that offer Internet connectivity today? In any case I wonder if things will improve again or further deteriorate. But frankly if it gets any slower I would say that most people will not consider it ‘Internet’ connectivity anymore, soon. Perhaps, ‘texting’ connectivity, but who would pay 21 USD for that for an intercontinental flight?

For short and mid-range flights over Europe I am a bit more optimistic as the system that is in its deployment phase now is (LTE) land- and (traditional) satellite based so there should be more capacity available but also more planes and people that will make use of it

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