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Airbus, Delta, and Sprint Are on a Quest for In-Flight Wi-fi That Actually Works

February 26, 2018, 1:38 PM UTC

It’s 2018, so why is it still seemingly impossible to get a decent wi-fi on an airplane?

Well, a lot of reasons, it turns out. The Wall Street Journal recently enumerated them: hardware, software, government regulation, aviation regulation, and rivalries between wireless and satellite companies.

Despite the obstacles, a new alliance between Airbus, Delta Air Lines, Sprint, and two U.S. satellite companies is trying to find a way to provide faster Internet and a better user experience. Japan’s SoftBank, which owns 80% of Sprint, and India’s Bharti Airtel are also reportedly supporting the project.

The group, which calls itself Seamless Air Alliance, envisions a world where a variety of devices could easily connect to the Internet while in flight at industry-leading speeds, rivaling cable and 5G. The businesses that are either involved in or backing the alliance pack a punch: they already serve about 150 million airline passengers and 450 million mobile users around the globe.

Beyond developing new hardware and software, the alliance would reduce friction between airlines, mobile service providers, and satellite companies that can cause prices to go up while the quality of service goes down. But they may very well be in a race against time. The global satellite fleets that currently provide in-flight wi-fi are gaining capacity and reducing prices to consumers, which may prevent new entrants from offering a competitive solution.