Tested: Inflight connectivity tested on KLM’s Boeing 787-9

A KLM B-787 Dreamliner, now with inflight connectivity by Panasonic
A KLM B-787 Dreamliner.

KLM is now offering Panasonic inflight connectivity, driven via Ku-band satellites, on its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

On recent trip back from the Bahrain Air Show “Get Connected” Managing Editor Steve Nichols was able to test the system on the leg from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam to see how it performed.

Inflight Internet connectivity is a new option for passengers on KLM’s growing new 787-9 fleet. At the time of writing only two aircraft were actually in service, although more are coming – two deliveries were imminent apparently.

The first couple of 787-9s entered service in November 2015 and are being used on various routes.

Inflight Connectivity

Although I knew that the aircraft might carry connectivity I was happy to see the familiar blue and white “Wi-Fi” logo on a bulkhead when I boarded.

It looks like you can pre-buy the Wi-Fi service via a voucher before boarding, perhaps when buying your airline ticket. I hadn’t noticed this when I bought mine and I wonder if KLM’s marketing is in full swing yet.

I would have also expected a back-seat flyer or brochure of some description to promote the service, but there wasn’t one on either my outward or homeward leg (I didn’t test the system on the outward leg as I had other things to do, including writing more content for “Get Connected”!)

To use the system the first thing you need to do is connect your Wi-Fi-enabled personal device to the aircraft’s onboard network. This was very easy and you could even do it while on the ground, although no satellite (Internet) connectivity is available until you climb to 10,000 feet.

Incidentally, you can’t access the service via the (excellent) embedded in-seat IFE system, only on your own device. I also found that the onboard seat-back USB socket would not charge my iPad Mini, although this was easily solved by using one of the aircraft’s 110V sockets and an Apple USB charger (KLM’s 787 has two 110V AC sockets per row in the economy and economy comfort classes). This suggests the USB sockets are of the earlier lower current variety.

Purchasing options

So having connected to the Wi-Fi network what purchasing options are available?

KLM/Panasonic offers two. The first is called “Wi-Fi Light”, costing €9.95, and as its name suggests, is intended for ‘light’ Internet usage, such as email, messaging and chat. 40 MB of data can be used with this option and the voucher expires 24 hours after activation. Once the 40 MB is consumed, or when the usage time has expired, the Internet connection drops. At this point you can buy another voucher.

The second option is called “Flight”, costs €19.95, and is intended for ‘medium’ Internet usage like browsing, email traffic or intensive messaging and chat. Up to 120 MB of data can be used with the “Flight” voucher, which again will expire 24 hours after activation. Once the 120 MB is consumed or the usage time has expired, the internet connection will be terminated. If you do not use the whole Wi-Fi voucher during the flight it will be cancelled 24 hours after first activation.

So effectively you are buying either 40 or 120Mb of data per day. Personally, I think the terms “Light” and “Flight” don’t really adequately describe what you are buying – you are not buying connectivity for a full flight, for example, and passengers could be confused.

Once you have paid via your credit card you are given a voucher code to log on with, and you are then taken to a Panasonic page to register and set up an account. You also have to choose an ID and password.

You will be emailed confirmation that you have paid, although obviously you won’t know this until you can establish an air-to-ground internet connection.

Internet experience

Once on the system it was pretty seamless. The internet experience was similar to what you might find in a hotel. Not blindingly fast, but very useable.

Speed tests showed a fairly consistent 1.6-1.7Mbps to the aircraft and 0.5Mbps off. The tests included sending and receiving emails with and without attachments, Facebook and Twitter use and generally browsing.

Generally, KLM says your Wi-Fi connection should be “about as fast as any public Wi-Fi/WLAN connection available on the ground”. However, you may experience “occasional delays and buffering depending on the number of connected passengers at any given time”.

The actual bandwidth available, it says, will depend on the satellite connection to the aircraft, the number of aircraft connected to the satellite, the number of passengers using the service and the intensity of usage, which is standard fare.

In case you don’t know, the aircraft’s antenna connects the onboard network – via one of many different Ku-band geostationary satellites – to Panasonic’s ground network, from where you can then access the internet.

Internet connectivity

Free content about Amsterdam attractions available on the 787.
Free content about Amsterdam attractions is available on the 787.

As well as internet connectivity with the ground, KLM also offers a range of locally-stored information text/image-based content that is available for free.

On my flight this included destination information on Abu Dhabi, Yas Island and car attractions around the world, including Abu Dhabi’s “Ferrari World”. These changed to information about attractions in Holland and Amsterdam on the AUH-AMS leg. It also had detailed information on the flight, the aircraft, cabin crew demographics, and suggested exercises while flying.

Anecdotally, a member of the cabin crew said that it was early days for the service, and the take-up rate was still low. But they said it performed well, better than the connectivity on some of KLM’s B777s, which they described as “problematic”.

What about security? All data sent and received via KLM’s Wi-Fi on board is secured by Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption. However, you are warned that “no public Wi-Fi can be guaranteed to be completely secure so it recommends keeping that in mind just as when using any other public network”.

It adds: “Just as with your Internet at home, at work or anywhere else, it is important to use special security software to protect your device. Panasonic uses the standard 802.11b/g wireless protocol for Internet access.”

Conclusion

Overall then, having internet connectivity on KLM’s new Boeing 787 fleet can only be a good thing. The aircraft is superb and a welcome change to B777s that usually operate the Europe-Middle East routes.

Its embedded IFE is excellent with a brilliant touch screen and a great range of content.

Back to the Wi-FI, Panasonic’s Ku-band solution is tried and tested, but I think the service needs to be marketed more aggressively on the flights.

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