There were many, many reasons I was excited about coming home from our New Years trip to Sri Lanka. One of them was the opportunity to fly on an Emirates Airbus A380 in first class. And a couple weeks ago, when Emirates indicated that they were activating the OnAir in-flight internet service on the A380s I got even more excited as I’d have the opportunity to take the system for a spin. So here I am, somewhere over Turkey, enjoying all that the internet has to offer.
OK, not really all of it. Actually a very limited subset of it, but that’s per my choice. When they announced the plan Emirates suggested that they had a rate plan in mind that would allow customers to readily use the system for a flight to London at a very reasonable price point. When I logged on to the system these were the pricing options I was given:
The numbers are reasonable, I suppose, given the costs of providing the service. And metering the bandwidth will certainly help keep the speeds reasonable for the folks who are willing to pay to use it. The problem is that it also really limits the things that can be done in-flight. At least without paying the running overage rate. At least the sign-up process gives you the option of having the system stop at 25MB rather than just keep running (though that is an option as well). And they give you a running tally of your consumption.
The system also does some other cool things, like incredibly heavy JPEG compression on the terrestrial gateway to keep image sizes down. Still, I logged on and, before I had actually launched any apps or loaded any web pages my computer had managed to slurp up 2.2MB of data. Sure, that’s something going on with my computer (I should probably figure out what) but had I purchased the lower tiered product I’d be nearly half done.
I can check emails, but running an RDP/Citrix session to do real work would be quite bandwidth intensive. And I find myself limiting the sites I’m willing to visit, trying to save my bytes to make them last through the flight. Like I said, I cannot say that I blame them, but it is a bit frustrating to have the product price be so potentially high. I’d love to update the Travel Tools site or check on a few clients I’ve been neglecting over the past two weeks during my travels. And I’d rather do it now than in the lounge when I’ll be enjoying the spa treatment or spending the time with my wife. Alas, my expense account doesn’t run that deep.
The performance is decent enough. Most webpages are loading at somewhere around 3G speeds I’d say. A bit of latency, but it isn’t all that horrible. The jitter is pretty wild though.
Overall I’d say that the service lives up to expectations for a basic connectivity system. At this price point I’m not really in a financial position to give it a true workout doing real work, but it certainly is effective for the basic stuff. And if you can keep your data consumption below 25MB (which is harder than it sounds), the price for international travel, considering the systems that are involved, is actually pretty darn good.