Internet is seen almost as a human right nowadays, and many people have come to expect Wi-Fi wherever they go. In the past few years, we have seen major hotel chains rolling out free Wi-Fi for their guests, and more airlines are offering in-flight Wi-Fi for purchase. Some airlines, like Emirates and JetBlue, even offer free WiFi to all passengers, albeit with a limit on speed or data use.
Here in the US, passengers are used to having Wi-Fi on almost every flight. American Airlines, Delta, and United have all installed Wi-Fi on the majority of their fleet. Part of the reason is because the early in-flight internet technology relies on an air-to-ground network. As a result, the huge land mass of North America facilitated relatively cheap and easy installations of Wi-Fi systems.
The growth of inflight Wi-Fi has been slower in other parts of the world, which may not have the same geographic benefit. The new technology relies on satellite networks, which are much faster, but also more expensive to install. Cathay Pacific has been one of the major Asian airlines that held back on WiFi, because it said its Marco Polo Club members didn’t want them. But even they have now installed WiFi on their new A350 aircrafts.
Inflight Wi-Fi is growing in Asia, but not as fast as it was in the United States. So why are Asian airlines seemingly not embracing the technology as much? In an interview with APEX, Dante Dionne, Senior Innovation Technology Manager of Korean Air, said:
I believe that passengers have similar expectations for in-flight and on-ground content and connectivity options. For example, in Korea, the wireless infrastructure is so advanced (significantly faster than the US average) that in-flight Internet services based on existing commercial satellite technology would be disappointing to them. That is a primary reason why Korean Air has not implemented in-flight Internet.
South Korea has the fastest average internet speed in the world, at 29 Mbps (the US is outside top 10, at 15.3 Mbps). When looking at the average peak internet speed, South Korea is ranked #4 with 103.6 Mbps (behind Singapore, Hong Kong, and Indonesia).
Perhaps there is some merit to what Dionne said, that customers might be disappointed with sub-par speed. Personally, I’d rather have the ability to send an e-mail on a plane, even if takes 5 minutes, than not having the ability at all. But I can also see how this play into a company’s decision. After all, Korean Air might rather receive a few complaints about not having Wi-Fi on their planes, than receiving more complaints about slow internet speeds.