German airline Lufthansa made the news last week with its plans to introduce in-flight mobile connectivity, currently available in only 8 aircraft, on all of its international long-haul flights by the end of 2014 – enabling passengers to text or surf the Internet using their personal devices while flying.
Lufthansa’s in-flight mobile connectivity system, by GSM service provider Aeromobile, will allow passengers to ‘roam’ during the flight just as they would while traveling abroad.
Aeromobile has roaming agreements with more than 240 mobile phone operators worldwide, including AT&T and T-Mobile in the USA, German networks T-Mobile, Vodafone, e-Plus and O2 Germany and EE, O2, Vodafone and Three in the UK.
Passengers have to simply turn on their mobile device to connect to the on-board network, and are billed directly by their mobile operator. According to Aeromobile’s February 2014 press release, “Prices are typically similar to ‘rest of world’ terrestrial roaming rates.”
What exactly is a “‘rest of world’ terrestrial roaming rate?
Terrestrial roaming rates appear to be a special category; similar in one respect to land-based international roaming rates, but not entirely. We couldn’t find a precise definition, but did find a chart on AT&T’s website that showed pricing for in-flight roaming.
Our check on AT&Ts website for international mobile roaming rates shows the same pricing – $0.0195 per KB – for in-flight data use as for traveling on the ground internationally. However, AT&T’s global data package, which is a much less expensive international wireless option ($30 for 120 MB, the equivalent of $0.00024 per KB), is not shown for AeroMobile’s in-flight service.
Depending on what you download or send through the on-board network, the “terrestrial roaming rate” could quickly become quite expensive. For example, opening Facebook with a few updates from friends, could use about 2 MB — almost $40 compared to less than $0.50 if you were on the ground with the global package!
Lufthansa currently has the Flynet system – its in-flight mobile connectivity system – installed on eight A330s, many of which fly from Munich and Frankfurt to North America.
Boeing recently delivered Lufthansa’s first 747-8 that is fully fitted with the mobile system.
Lufthansa will also allow gate-to-gate use of electronic devices on all its Airbus aircraft beginning March 1, 2014. Currently, only passengers flying on its Boeing 747-8s are allowed to keep their electronic devices on from gate-to-gate.
Aeromobile’s in-flight mobile connectivity is currently available in 10 airlines, including Emirates, Etihad and Virgin Atlantic, with the number expected to increase substantially in 2014.