Recently, SQ announced that it would be providing complimentary WiFi for First, Business and PPS passengers. Reactions seemed to be rather tepid, including sentiments like “30MB? What can you do with that pathetic amount?” and “WiFi is a basic human right that should be included for all passengers!” (I paraphrase).
So a few days back I was flying on SQ236 (BNE-SIN, A350 J) and spotted this card advertising the WiFi service.
Flipping it over, some simple instructions are given for connecting to the complimentary WiFi.
Like most people, I wasn’t too impressed by the 30MB limit, but figured that I’d give it a try anyway. After all, free is free!
The first part of step 1 involves connecting to the WiFi network. Unfortunately, for several minutes I seemed to be having trouble getting my iOS device connected to the network.
Through sheer dogged determination, I was able to resolve this issue. This involved giving up, returning to my in-flight movie and later noticing that the connection had been successfully established.
(My first thought was that there was some compatibility issue with iOS, but after having tried it out, I now suspect that the slow speed was to blame for the time it took to establish a connection.)
From there, the procedure was rather straightforward – you just key in some details (surname and seat number, as I recall) and then you’re good to go.
Credit card details are not required, so you don’t automatically get billed if you hit the data limit – kudos to SQ for not going down that path!
The J cabin was half-empty for that flight, so I expected the connection speed to be rather decent, with not too many people using it. For some objective measure of the connection speed, I ran Speedtest while connected to the network and measured a 0.08Mbps download speed.
For comparison, that’s like 0.2% of the 39.6Mbps speed I’d previously scored for my LTE connection, and 0.07% of the 104Mbps on my home fibre connection.
In other words – it’s super-slow.
When subjecting the network to some real-world usage, I found it to be still usable, albeit annoyingly slow. To get some sense of the usage experience, I attempted to try web browsing, messaging, as well as firing up a (web-connected) mobile game.
The Milelion website is optimised for mobile browsing, so it was a natural choice for trying out the web browsing experience.
The main page contains a whole bunch of content, but still manages to load completely in about 5 seconds on my home network. Using the in-flight WiFi, it took approximately:
- 6s for the page to become viewable
- 28s for the first featured image to load fully
The progress bar peaks around the halfway mark during the 1min I spent attempting this, and when scrolling through the page you can see that some images have yet to be completely loaded.
The Milelion Telegram group seemed a natural choice for testing how feasible messaging was while in the air.
For the most part, there wasn’t too much problem loading text within the app. I’d disabled media auto-downloading to save bandwidth – attempting to download a small 23kB image took 10s, which is… insanely slow.
If you really wanted to frivolously burn through data, why not indulge in some mobile gaming? Now, I know that Pokemon Go has waned in popularity since it first launched, but it was one of the few games I had handy on my phone; so until the day Aaron launches a Milelion mobile game I suppose this will have to do for testing purposes.
It took about 19s for the game to load, and unfortunately the game was unable to get a location fix (I assume the aircraft body messes with GPS signals) so I was unable to see my in-game avatar sprinting over the oceans at superhuman speeds. The games takes about 9s to load on my home network, so I can only assume the difference in speed is due to the slow connection speed.
Free WiFi is better than no WiFi, I suppose, but when it’s that slow I begin to wonder if I’m better off not bothering. The frustration of waiting for things to load might just outweigh the utility of having internet access!
(That said, this is just one experience within a rather short duration on a single flight – I can’t be sure if it’s representative of SQ’s in-flight WiFi experience in general.)
Additionally, 30MB goes by really really quickly, even at such slow speeds. If you’re not willing to pay for additional data, you’d need to ration this – I’d suggest avoiding image/video downloads and just using it to check in occasionally on your messaging apps and emails every now and then.
I’d initially agreed with all the negative sentiment regarding the low data cap, but after trying it out my opinion has shifted slightly. While I still think 30MB is a rather pathetic amount (especially for long-haul flights), I’m guessing that the system would be even more unusable if all passengers were to be allowed unlimited WiFi access.
Has anyone experienced good in-flight WiFi, though? It’s not usually a feature I look out for, but I’m curious if the technology has progressed far enough for it to actually be an enjoyable experience – based on some (Google) research it seems like the technology is improving, with download speeds fast enough to even support Netflix video streaming (as of May 2017).
(Featured image from Singapore Airlines website)