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What’s Driving the Growth in Inflight Wi-Fi?

By Dennis Jones

What's driving the growth of inflight wi-fi?

It wasn’t too long ago that we used to relish drinking, eating, reading, even smoking (at least according to Mad Men,) on planes. Boy, have those times changed. Nowadays, who would dream of boarding a long haul flight without the possibility of connecting to Wi-Fi? Certainly not that many mobile professionals who actually choose their airline based on whether it offers inflight Wi-Fi. I mean, what else are they supposed to do, re-read Eat, Pray, Love?

All kidding aside, it’s easy to see that inflight Wi-Fi has become a near necessity. Sixty-six percent of U.S. passengers cite the availability of Wi-Fi as one of the determining factors when it comes to choosing which airline to fly. The same goes for mobile professionals. Sixty percent of business travelers expect inflight Wi-Fi when they fly; unsurprisingly, nearly 60 percent of them are disappointed when they don’t have access.

Moreover, inflight is no longer just an American phenomenon; although at 80 percent market share, the U.S. remains the dominant player. Asia-Pacific is the fastest growing inflight market. And altogether globally, there will be more than 10,000 Wi-Fi enabled aircraft by 2020. We’re even seeing great innovation in inflight technology coming out of Europe, long considered the doldrums of the inflight market. So what’s caused this huge spike? What’s driving the massive demand for inflight Wi-Fi?

Well, like it has with most things wireless, the surging popularity of smartphones has created unprecedented demand for inflight connectivity. People have grown accustomed to using their powerful smart devices to access the internet at home, in the office (thanks to Bring Your Own Device) and around town. So it follows that they would demand the same, high-quality Wi-Fi experience in the air that they expect on the ground.

Workforce mobility trends are helping as well. By 2020, three-quarters of the workforce will be mobile in the U.S. and Europe, which means more people will be working on the go, requiring a constant connectivity source in order to remain productive.

Neither of those growth drivers shows any signs of abating. So the airline industry is clearly licking its chops, as global revenues from inflight mobile and data roaming will soar to $3 billion by 2020. More and more, inflight Wi-Fi forms a integral part of airline revenue streams; it’s just simple demand-based economics.

So what does the future hold? Mobile professionals will keep demanding more from inflight services, so as to continue performing high-bandwidth activities and accessing media-rich content. But to fulfill user demands, inflight Wi-Fi will have to get better. And therefore, we’ll see more deployments of satellite-based Wi-Fi, the next frontier in inflight technology.