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Sci-Tech

Telstra Skinet trials Wi-Fi for the Sky-Fi

​Frequent flyers may soon have access to Wi-Fi in the sky with news that Telstra is working on bringing 4G internet connectivity to aircraft travelling from Melbourne to Sydney.

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Trial aircraft were fitted with 'shark-fin' antennae Telstra

This bold vision for the future, known as Skinet, will go one better than the Wi-Fi offered on some international commercial flights, which is achieved using 3G or satellite technology. Despite what the name suggests, Telstra is aiming for a "far more human friendly" experience with Skinet, aiming to bring fast 4G LTE speeds to domestic aircraft.

Mike Wright, executive director of Telstra Networks explained how the technology would work.

"Using our own 4G expertise in conjunction we have constructed four dedicated mobile sites that cover most of the commercial air route from Melbourne to Sydney," said Wright. "These sites utilise upward facing antennas and are designed to allow users to access the network as the aircraft travels at high speed."

Telstra tested the technology on a number of different aircraft using "borrowed" spectrum, managing to "successfully establish and maintain data connections, achieving a maximum data throughput of 15 Mbps, with an average throughput around 10 Mbps".

While Wright said the test flights were "encouraging", there are plans for more testing later this year. In addition, Telstra needs the spectrum to make the tests a reality, and the company is yet to "explore the possible economics around building a nationwide, commercial LTE network in the sky".

However, Wright is hopeful for a future with in-flight 4G access.

"These test flights are...a significant step in the development of a potential Skinet network that might one day deliver high speed broadband connectivity to a range of aircraft-based applications."