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How does in-flight Wi-Fi work and why it is expensive?

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New Delhi, Mar 03: Yes, you'll soon be able to use Internet onboard a plane, as the central government has permitted airlines operating in India to provide in-flight Wi-Fi services to passengers. Obviously, it's going to take some time for the airlines to set things up, but it's finally happening.

How does in-flight Wi-Fi work and why it is expensive?

"The Pilot-in-Command may permit the access of Internet services by passengers on board an aircraft in flight, through Wi-Fi on board, when laptop, smartphone, tablet, smartwatch, e-reader or a point of sale device is used in flight mode or airplane mode," the notification stated.

While taking the delivery of its first Boeing 787-9 aircraft at Everett on last Friday, Vistara CEO Leslie Thng had told reporters that it would be the first plane in India to provide in-flight Wi-Fi services.

How does in-flight Wi-Fi work?

Wi-Fi access has become an expected feature, and is an increasingly common offering on budget and flagship airlines alike.

There are two ways for an internet signal to reach your device at the high-altitude. This requires two antennas that are installed on the belly of an aircraft in order to pick up signals from land-based cell towers.

The plane automatically connects to signals from the nearest tower, so there is (in theory at least) no interruption to your browsing.

But if you're passing over large bodies of water or particularly remote terrain, connectivity can be uneven.

The second method uses satellite technology. Planes connect to satellites in geostationary orbit, which send and receive signals to earth via receivers and transmitters. These are the same satellites that are used in television signals, weather forecasting, and covert military operations.

Why is in-flight Wi-Fi so expensive?

Technology does not come cheap. Antennas also increase drag, additional fuel costs, given the extra weight and drag aircraft will face due to the antenna.

Will flight tickets cost more?

Many airliners have felt that it would be easier to have the equipment installed on their new aircraft rather than taking planes out of service for retrofitting. The additional cost could find a way into ticket prices.

The price of in-flight connectivity varies between airlines, although some offer free trials.

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