Virgin America now has Wi-Fi that’s faster than your home connection

Ever wanted to watch Netflix on a plane? Next year, you’ll be able to stream video on some of Virgin America’s flights. Thanks to a technology partnership with ViaSat, Virgin America passengers will soon be able to enjoy speeds eight to ten times faster than any other in-flight system – and close to speeds you get at home. However, UK flyers will have to wait; when the service rolls out next year, it will only be available to passengers on the Hawaii-San Francisco route.

Virgin America now has Wi-Fi that’s faster than your home connection

How does it work?

Virgin America’s partnership with ViaSat means that its planes will be able to connect to the 140Gbits/sec-capable ViaSat-1 – the highest-capacity Ka-band satellite in the world. To do this, Virgin America is installing a hybrid Ku/Ka-band antenna to ten of its Airbus A320s.

Ku and Ka refer to bands of frequencies used by communications satellites. Ku-band satellites are still the most common, but new Ka-band technology – as that used by ViaSat – offers significant speed benefits. However, the technology is currently nowhere near as widespread as its Ku-band counterpart – and that’s where the hybrid antenna fits in.


Much like how your phone switches between 4G, 3G and – if you’re really unlucky – GPRS, Virgin America’s planes will always stay connected, and switch between Ku or Ka depending on what’s available. As a result, passengers will receive an uninterrupted connection at the fastest speed possible.

“The idea behind our in-flight entertainment and connectivity offerings has always been to offer travelers more content, more interactivity and more of the choices they have access to on the ground,” said Ken Bieler, director of product design and innovation at Virgin America.

“Bringing ViaSat’s satellite-based Wi-Fi product to our new delivery aircraft will again allow us to make an industry-leading investment in our product. We’re excited about this new technology and the possibility it opens up for Wi-Fi coverage on our new Hawaii flights and for travellers who wish to stream video in-flight.”

Broadband in the air

The airline says the service will initially be free during the beta period, but is set to announce prices nearer to rollout. Interestingly, Virgin America expects people to pay up for the internet – and believes it will keep customers flying with it.

“By leveraging our technology, Virgin America can maximise passenger engagement and increase customer loyalty,” said Don Buchman, vice president and general manager of the commercial mobility business at ViaSat.

Virgin America’s decision to supercharge its in-flight Wi-Fi comes after an overhaul of its Red in-flight entertainment system. Currently in beta, Virgin’s new service provides travellers with high-resolution touchscreens running an Android-based UI. Passengers can also stream videos, navigate through active maps and even listen in surround sound.

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