Emirates Adding Wifi Over The North Pole (Sort Of)

Filed Under: Travel Technology

Emirates just put out a press release titled “Emirates’ US-bound passengers soon to have Wi-Fi, mobile connectivity and Live TV over the North Pole.” They’re leaving out one important detail, and also have a different definition of “soon” than I do.

Emirates wifi disruptions on polar routes

If you’ve ever flown Emirates to/from North America and the flight took a polar routing you may have noticed that wifi cut off for several hours around the middle of the flight, as you fly over the North Pole.

This is because the satellites that connect aircraft are geostationary, and are located over the equator, so the aircraft antennae can’t see the satellite when that far north due to the earth’s curvature.

Emirates is working with Inmarsat to address this, though it’s not quite as straightforward as it sounds.

What Emirates & Inmarsat are doing

Emirates is partnering with Inmarsat to solve this problem by adding two elliptical orbit satellites, which should provide coverage over the North Pole by 2022. This will allow customers to enjoy wifi and live TV over these regions.

There are two issues here:

  • I wouldn’t exactly call 2022 “soon,” especially in the context of a press announcement from an airline
  • As far as I know Emirates only has a partnership with Inmarsat for their soon to be delivered 777Xs, so I don’t believe this would apply to their current 777s and A380s, which feature OnAir and Panasonic

Emirates & connectivity

Emirates is both a leader and frustrating when it comes to the connectivity they offer.

On the plus side, Emirates offers live TV on all Boeing 777s and most A380s, which is pretty awesome. Furthermore, they offer free wifi, though with limits.

Emirates notes that their customers make over one million wifi connections every month, which sure is a lot.

Emirates has long been a leader when it comes to offering free wifi. The airline offers wifi on all planes, and all customers receive 20MB of free data. On top of that, Skywards elite members and first and business class passengers receive higher complimentary allowances.

The catch is that Emirates has slow wifi. It’s offered by OnAir and Panasonic (depending on the plane), and the speeds on both the A380 and 777 are bad. So while I appreciate that they’re offering free wifi, I really wish they’d improve the wifi speeds that are available.

Bottom line

It sounds like Emirates’ 777Xs should feature faster wifi speeds than what’s currently offered, which is great. Furthermore, it’s nice that they’re working on offering connectivity over the North Pole.

The problem is that as far I know this will just apply to 777Xs, and won’t apply to their current planes.

  1. The announcement is a bit hyped, but taking a step back, the first flight over the North Pole was less than 100 years ago. The idea that you’ll soon be able to fly over there while connected to wifi is incredible.

  2. The Wi-Fi for first and business class is also capped if you do not credit your miles to Skywards, which, interestingly is not a problem if you are flying on points, but is if you are paying for your ticket.

  3. “Emirates notes that their customers make over one million wifi connections every month”, you mean it was me, trying to connect a million times to that frustrating thing they call wifi!?
    Anyway wifi (eventually) over the North Pole is pretty incredible.

  4. @Nevsky
    Why is it interesting? If you are flying on points it doesn’t matter what airline you have listed on, when you are flying in first. You get no benefits.

  5. Joke. I had problems with paid wifi three months ago, and I am still waiting for my promised credit.

  6. “The catch is that Emirates has slow wifi” … Hi Ben, can you tel us what you mean by Slow ? What are the actual speeds you refer to

  7. Emirates used to have very good WiFi connection and very cheap.. 1USD for 500mb I think it was.. For all.. Sometimes some start up connecting problems but okay.. Then a few years ago things/provider/contracts changed.. Their WiFi price is not too bad (for FFs) but the connection is horrid& sloooow.. And what is free (what can one do with 20mb BTW) if you can’t connect?

  8. @Ross agreed, especially when you consider the first commerical passenger flights that regularly went over the North Pole was just a bit over two decades ago.

  9. Reading between the lines here, but correct me if I’m wrong. Immarsat and Emirates are only together on the 777X and this is 2022. Could Boeing have indicated some really lengthy delays to Emirates on the 777X program that pushes the FIRST delivery into 2022?!?! If so, this sounds like a really bad spot to be in for both parties. I’d love to be wrong, but Boeing hasn’t exactly been in the press for positive news lately and that hole just keeps getting deeper

  10. I believe space x launched the satellites earlier this year or late last year so timing is probably right for it to go live. Hopefully soon is soon.

  11. From a time perspective, I don’t think this is any different than when an airline announced they are installing new business class seats and it takes years to do so. Basically, we should just automatically build in years to our comprehension of these releases (except when they cut frequent flier benefits!)

  12. @Greg
    Nope the 2 birds in question is going up in late 2022 on Spacex launch.

    @Jimmy The Greek
    Has noting to do with when the 777x is being delivered.

    The reason that 2022 is considered soon is that it’s new Norwegian government owned satellite system that just got ordered. 3 years is about right for the build time of a comsat.

    Of course when government bureaucrats is involved 3 years is also soon, since the Norwegian government owned company that is running the mini constellation was formed in 2014.

    Inmarsat is not building/ordering anything, they are just leasing/marketing the commercial payload on the Space Norway bird. The other 2 payloads on the satellite belong to the Norwegian ministry of Defense and the the US Air Force.


    Of course the really question is if SpaceX will start launching the polar part of their Starlink mega constellation. And how soon Amazon will follow with their mega constellation and if it will have satellite interlinks making it useful over water.

    Chances are that this Norwegian mini constellation will be obsolete by 2025.

  13. Thanks for reminder/info.. I must say US defense dep. is coming a bit too close for comfort.. But in fact.. all according expectations.. Nothing new

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