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Delta, Airbus launch alliance to bring 5G Internet to flights


If you’ve used in-flight Internet much, you might have experienced frustration with connecting and with Internet speed at 35,000 feet.

It’s been a long-standing issue. Fixing in-flight wi-fi speed was one of the priorities Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian pinpointed last year.

“We’ve got to improve the experience of our customers on board,” Bastian said.

Now, Atlanta-based Delta is forming an alliance with other companies to improve in-flight Internet with satellite technology  -- and reduce the cost.

Delta, airplane manufacturer Airbus, satellite start-up OneWeb, Sprint and Indian telecom company Bharti Airtel announced they are forming the Seamless Air Alliance. The goal, they say, is to “deliver high-speed, low latency 5G quality access inside the plane.”

Delta expects its in-flight Internet provider Gogo to also join the alliance, and attract other companies.

The idea is for the alliance to develop specifications for mobile operators to offer service on flights. Companies would be able to get their products tested and certified.

Then, it would be up to each airline and mobile operator to develop plans to roll out service for an experience in which “the passenger will board and all the devices will seamlessly connect without any login or credit cards needed, enabled through your current mobile operator’s platform,” the alliance says. It’s yet to be seen how long it will be before that becomes a reality.

Today, Gogo sells an hour of in-flight Internet for $7, an all-day Internet pass for domestic flights for $19 and a “Delta global day pass” good on wi-fi-equipped international flights for $28. It also sells subscription plans.

The alliance said its intent is to “dramatically increase accessibility and affordability for passengers,” the alliance said.

Sprint chief commercial officer Dow Draper in a written statement said that “we’re looking forward to enabling customers to experience Sprint’s high-speed connectivity in the air, hassle-free.”

The question of whether to allow in-flight voice calls are allowed would remain a decision up to the airlines, according to Delta.


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About the Author

Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.