Qatar DOES want broadband after all


It seems like only yesterday that I bemoaned – in an admittedly ’21st Century, 1st world problem’ sort of way – Qatar Airways’ lack of inflight high-speed Internet on its fleet. Being disconnected for 14 hours just isn’t something many business travelers have the luxury of doing.

It also seems like only yesterday that Qatar’s manager corporate communications Brian Thomas Ashby said the carrier had no “current” plans for retrofitting aircraft with connectivity.

But, lo, today we learn that Qatar has selected Panasonic Avionics’ Ku-band satellite-supported connectivity suite for select Airbus A330-200s.

Hey, it’s a start.

The announcement, made at the increasingly unmissable IBT Berlin show, is one of several to emerge from Qatar this week (the carrier also unveiled the luxury First Class seats that will be offered on its new Airbus A380s; announced an upgrade of full-flat business class seats to those same select A330-200s plus Airbus A320s; and the carrier’s CEO Akbar Al Baker made some really interesting comments to Reuters about the continued importance of embedded IFE on long-haul aircraft.

But for those of us who believe inflight connectivity is an essential amenity – and our numbers are growing rapidly – Qatar’s announcement is incredibly important, and we’re hopeful the airline will see fit to expand connectivity to more aircraft types.

Qatar currently offers OnAir connectivity on its Boeing 787s; the service is supported by a lower bandwidth Inmarsat L-band SwiftBroadband service. The fact that Qatar has selected Panasonic Ku for several A330-200s may come as a blow to OnAir, though the company will surely see that Qatar must move towards a higher bandwidth offering, as its neighbors Etihad Airways and Emirates have done. OnAir is actively selling Ka-band connectivity service – which will operate over Inmarsat’s Global Xpress Ka network – but the offering won’t be available until well into 2015.

Today’s announcement may also be seen as dealing a blow to Thales, because Qatar has also selected Panasonic to provide its eX2 IFE system – with 15.3in smart monitors – on both the A330-200s and the A320s. Thales provides its latest generation IFE system on Qatar’s 787s (as well as the connectivity hardware that supports OnAir’s service on the twinjets). Thales could not be immediately reached for comment.

“I firmly believe in providing our passengers with the best levels of service and the best available in-flight product,” says Al Baker. “And to deliver our five-star service in a consistent way is probably our greatest achievement and has been the foundation of our success to date.”

We’re glad Qatar realizes that connectivity and 5 Stars go hand-in-hand.