Your author did not board Air France flight 7645, a 47-minute flight between France’s second city Lyon and its capital Paris, expecting to have the best inflight Internet connectivity experience in over a decade of covering this industry.
Yet, in late October, that’s exactly what happened.
Not being an habitué of domestic air travel in France, where the high-speed TGV rail network and its free Wi-Fi connectivity is king (or indeed roi), I thought I’d check out the Anuvu Ku-band system on one of Air France’s ten-year-old A320s.
This not being my first rodeo with exaggerated claims on inflight Wi-Fi, it was with some skepticism that I selected the Stream Pass for ten euros, or roughly the same in US dollars at the time. I wanted to see whether, as advertised, I would “get high-speed internet access, watch videos and listen to streaming music”. For 47 minutes, this was frankly bonkers pricing — especially since a messaging tier was free, on which more later — but I figured I’d give it a go.
Its performance, in all frankness, took me aback. This was like no other Ku-band system I’d ever used before. The speeds were lightning-fast and the system was responsive, with video loading quickly: substantially faster than on anything else in recent memory, and certainly anything else in Europe.
Ookla and Fast speedtests gave results between the 30s to 50s in Mbps terms, and streaming services supported full HD (1080p) content. Astoundingly, it almost managed 4K, which I tried on a lark.
Impressively, modern social video — notably TikTok and Instagram stories — also loaded with very little lag when skipping to the next video, where this has been a key gap in usability for quite some time on most systems.
Sending images and video to my other half to test the systems, I was delighted to see that this download speed wasn’t entirely at the expense of usable upload speed.
This experience in real-world sort of feeling reflected the Ookla speedtest’s estimation of some 2 Mbps upload: photos sent almost immediately, while video (downscaled to 720p by the messenger app) took a while but was certainly usable. (Few IFC systems are inherently designed or optimised for video upload.)
On my connecting flight from Paris to London of just 39 minutes, I pulled out my phone once again, this time to try out the free messaging tier — which passengers are much more likely to use on a flight as short as these were.
Here too, I was very impressed: every messaging service we tried worked, including, interestingly enough, Twitter direct messages. The social network itself loaded intermittently, which is more than fair enough.
Sending images, often blocked by messaging-level tiers inflight, was slow but worked. Neither the Ookla nor Fast speedtests loaded, however, nor did video or other socials. All in all, for the kind of tier that’s just for keeping in touch, this was very decent indeed, although I would have appreciated a multi-flight bundle, or even just having my 10€ cover all eligible flights for a 24-hour period.
Anuvu, then known as Global Eagle, said when launching the agreement with Air France in 2018 that the hundred-plus installs in collaboration with Orange Business Services (Orange being the latest brand for the legacy France Telecom telco) would feature a Jupiter HT modem capable of delivering 500Mbps to the aircraft and a three-axis Ku-band antenna. This certainly performed.
In 2019, the firm told RGN that it expected its IFC on Air France’s A320s would set a European standard.
All in all, it has been almost nine years — going back to the December 2013 launch of Viasat’s Ka-band connectivity aboard JetBlue — since your journalist has been so impressed with an inflight connectivity experience. Anuvu and Air France are very much to be praised.
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- Global Eagle expects IFC on Air France A320s to set European standard
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All images credited to John Walton