THE wifi on board an airplane allows passengers to stay connected in flight, but its operation is somewhat different from that of a terrestrial wifi network. On board, the system is generally based on a satellite connection.
The process begins when the aircraft reaches a safe cruising altitude. A communications antenna on the fuselage connects to satellites in geostationary orbit or constellations of satellites, such as those deployed by OneWeb or SpaceX. These satellites act as communication relays and transmit signals between the aircraft and ground stations.
The interior of the aircraft is equipped with wireless access points which create wifi coverage areas. These access points are usually strategically placed to cover the entire passenger cabin. Passengers can log in using their devices such as smartphones, laptops or tablets.
User data passes through the access points, is transmitted to the aircraft’s antenna, and then redirected to the satellites. These signals are routed to ground stations which act as gateways to the Internet.
The ground stations are connected to a global internet network, and they return the data requested by the passengers via the same path, passing through the satellites to the aircraft, which then transmits the data to the passenger devices.
However, due to the nature of satellite communications, wifi on board aircraft can be slower and more subject to latency delays compared to terrestrial wifi networks. Also, due to shared demand among passengers, the speed may vary depending on the number of users connected at the same time.
In conclusion, wifi on board an aircraft uses satellites to provide internet connection to passengers during their flight. Although it may be slower than terrestrial networks, it is still an essential way to keep passengers connected and entertained in flight.