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According to Gogo, who provide internet service to Delta and other major airlines, only 12% of passengers across the airlines they serve currently pay for Wi-Fi. This is bound to increase substantially the minute the service is open to all. Low-cost airline JetBlue started offering free Wi-Fi to all passengers in 2017 and remain the only major U.S. airline to do so at no charge.
A factor to account in that low usage is that historically inflight Wi-Fi has been spotty and slow, even when paid, but this has improved with better technology.
Gogo's latest satellite-based system called 2Ku, replaced older cellular-based connectivity for improved reliability and bandwidth. Deployment of 2Ku started as early as 2015 but it's only recently that you're bound to find more aircrafts equipped with the antennas. The difference between cellular-based ATG (Air-To-Ground) systems and 2Ku should be night and day. Coming from 3.1 Mbit/s (for the entire aircraft) on first-gen ATG, to 9.8 Mbit/s in ATG-4 and up to 70 Mbit/s on 2Ku.
"Customers are accustomed to having access to free Wi-Fi during nearly every other aspect of their journey, and Delta believes it should be free when flying, too," said Ekrem Dimbiloglu, Director of Onboard Product. "Testing will be key to getting this highly complex program right – this takes a lot more creativity, investment and planning to bring to life than a simple flip of a switch."
Delta will run the two-week pilot in aircrafts equipped with 2Ku antennas only. The selected flights will change daily as part of the test, while passengers will be notified that their flight is part of the test run via email, the Delta mobile app, and prior to their flight.