In-flight Internet to take off in South Africa


South Africans could look forward to Internet access through Fli G-Connect on flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town, as soon as April. The current programme is structured to “get everything in place in the next four months or so”, with installation in the first Mango plane set to start in April, said WirelessG CEO Carel van der Merwe.

WirelessG also has the sole rights to provide the service in Africa, from May 1. WirelessG’s international technology partner, Row44, has submitted documentation to, and would hold a meeting with, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in South Africa in February.

Approval for the required equipment making Wi-Fi access possible in-flight, has been granted in the US by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). Thus the meeting with the CAA would be largely administrative, transferring the certification to the CAA.

“The CAA has said that it would take no longer than a month to endorse it,” Van der Merwe noted, adding that the company’s partners in South Africa, namely Vodacom Business, and Mango airlines have also given their commitment and stated their readiness to deploy the technology.

Van der Merwe explained that the safety of the technology has already been approved by the FAA, and internationally the CAA accepts certification from the US.

The technology has been installed on some 800 planes in America already.

Connecting to the Internet on-board a flight was said to be exactly the same as connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot in the airport. “You will sit down, open your laptop, smartphone or tablet, and when you enable your Wi-Fi, you will pick up the signal. Then click on your browser, and then the gateway that regulates the traffic will stream a landing page to your screen. You then put in your G-Connect account credentials, or you purchase a voucher, and Bob's your uncle, you are on the Internet!” enthused Van der Merwe.

The service would be cheaper for G-Connect customers, and a part of the company’s converged account offering, so customers would not lose what they did not use on the plane. “We have experienced a lot of challenges, but we are there, and it will definitely happen,” continued Van der Merwe.

Mango would be first airline to offer the service, but Van der Merwe said that WirelessG was in discussions with other airlines. The Row44 technology uses a low-profile antenna, four compact line replaceable units, a server management unit, a high power amplifier, an antenna control unit and a modem data unit on each equipped aircraft. To deliver a Wi-Fi signal, one or more wireless access units will also need to be placed in the aircraft.
Speeds would vary in accordance with each specific application, but would be consistent with the WirelessG Wi-Fi hotspot experience.