Access to the internet can be all too easily taken for granted, even on public transport. The proliferation of netbooks, smartphones and tablets plus widespread development of Wi-Fi networks spanning entire suburbs and city centres have made it easier than ever to get connected, but on some transport forms, even checking your email is just about impossible to do.


Anyone who has ever been on a flight to the other side of the world, or even on a short-haul trip to a neighbouring country will know that internet access is almost non-existent thanks to a myriad of technological issues that may interfere with the flight itself. Fortunately for many regular business commuters who need web access 24/7, that could be about to change.

Sky-high connections
Communications watchdog Ofcom announced that licences will be issued for broadband provision on cruise ships and planes, giving travellers the access they need while en route to important client meetings, trade shows or something similar. The licences for satellite broadband, seen as the most sensible solution for planes in particular, are expected to be released within a few years.

Ofcom recently published details of its consultation on earth stations of mobile platforms (ESMOPs), which recommended that the growing demand for satellite broadband on moving vehicles was too great to ignore. However, they also said that the need to provide broadband on buses and trains wasn’t there because they didn’t need ESMOPs due to being almost entirely on land.

A quick start?
The first licences for satellite broadband on ships and planes are expected to be issues at the beginning of 2014, which means that in all probability, many commuters who regularly use planes and ships to get around won’t have to wait too long until they can receive a better web connection. Despite that, there is some confusion over how satellite broadband will actually work.

In relation to air travel, the issue of having a fast enough connection is a concern. However, a number of the world’s biggest airlines are now providing in-flight Wi-Fi for customers. Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and Emirates are among those who were first to use it, while some European airlines are set to follow suit, but slow speeds still persist.

Towers of strength
At present, internet for planes equipped with GoGo are connected via a large network of cellular towers, which could be the base from which speeds improve. However, for the time being, slow speeds may still be the norm, but advances in satellite broadband technology may see them increase significantly to the delight of many a frustrated traveller.

In response to the news from Ofcom, Andrew Walwyn, the CEO of EuropaSat , said that their technology could prove beneficial when it comes to delivering once the licences are up for grabs. He said: “It’s easy to understand that business travellers do feel disconnected these days if they’re offline for more than an hour whilst in the air, but the high cost of delivering aeronautical services has hampered growth in this market, and increasing the licensing requirements will just add a further layer of costs just when no one needs them.

“We’ve been able to deliver broadband in the air via satellite for some time using Inmarsat SwiftBroadband services, so this isn’t something new. We’ve never had a report of an airborne system causing interference on the ground.

“The transmit power of the antennas is very low, and by definition, the transmissions are directed upwards towards the satellite, not down to earth”, he added.

Satellite broadband could be the answer to the prayers of airlines, cruise operators and commuters desperate to get a better connection without worrying about how it might affect travel. Should more travel firms take it on, then there’s a chance that speeds akin to those on land will soon become commonplace.

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