Is High-Speed Wi-Fi Coming to the UK Skies?

airplaneJolyon Attwooli, The Daily Telegraph, August 20, 2013

Passengers may soon be able to use high-speed broadband at high-altitude under plans revealed by the communications regulator Ofcom.

Those flying in British airspace, as well as those travelling on trains and ferries, would be able to surf the internet at an estimated 10 times the speed currently available.

The regulator cites “increasing interest” in broadband use on moving vehicles in a recent publication. If the proposals outlined in the document - called Earth Stations on Mobile Platforms - are brought into place, they would allow operators to introduce new technology that would significantly increase browsing speeds.

Satellite companies are already capable of launching networks using “earth station” receivers on fast-moving vehicles, the Independent reports .

According to the Ofcom publication, “the relatively large amount of spectrum that we propose to make available means they [would] have the ability to provide links with higher capacity.

“Recent innovations in satellite technology mean it is now possible for aircraft, ships and trains to access the internet at speeds closer to what you’d expect from home broadband,” the Ofcom policy director Charles Jenne told the newspaper.

“Ofcom is proposing to allow the use of this technology in the UK, which could benefit business users and holidaymakers who want to stay connected while travelling.”

Operators would be able to use the technology from early next year, if Ofcom’s proposals go ahead as planned.

Britain’s long-haul operators are not expected to take part in the consultation process, although they may use the technology if demand warrants it.

A spokesman for Virgin told the Times that the airline welcomed any development to “to enhance customer experience”, adding: “Our current focus is a Wi-Fi trial across some of our long-haul flights, which we hope to roll out more widely next year.”

Response to the suggestions made in the document are being invited for October, with an Ofcom statement due at the end of this year.

If the proposals go ahead, it would signal a resounding end to the plane journey being an escape from modern communications.

In 2009, mobile phone technology was introduced by Ryanair and British Airways, despite a Telegraph Travel poll suggesting that 85 per cent of readers would boycott airlines that offered in-flight mobile phone use.

Read the full consultation document here