Juniper Research says increasing availability of in-flight mobile will boost income, but sky-high roaming will be just a fraction of global revenues if costs remain so high
International travellers will spend $3 billion (£2.1bn) on in-flight roaming by 2020 – double what is currently spent on calls, texts and data in the sky in 2016.
Juniper Research says the increase will be fuelled by cheaper roaming rates and the increased availability of in-flight 3G and 4G services, a trend which is already boosting figures dramatically.
Both the US and EU have relaxed regulations in the past few years, allowing passengers to use their phones above a certain altitude.
Juniper says in-flight mobile operator AeroMobile reported a 56 percent rise in passengers using its services during the first half of 2015 compared to the previous year.
However the report, which looked into trends in the global roaming market, notes the cost of in-flight phone use tends to be higher than on the ground. For example, Vodafone in the UK will charge $5 (£3.54) a MB for the first 5MB and then $27 (£19.13) for each 5MB after. Calls, it says, cost approximately $3.
Experts say that if the cost remains so high, then the total revenues accrued from in-flight roaming will only account for 5 percent of all international roaming by the end of the decade. The elimination of roaming costs within the European Union (EU) from next year is expected to increase the number of roamers, boosting income for operators.
“High in-flight mobile roaming charges will continue to be a key hurdle for the industry,” said Research author Nitin Bhas. ”Given the steep pricing levels for in-flight roaming, the average annual spend per mobile roamer on in-flight and maritime roaming services will only represent a modest increase over the forecast period.”
Air travel has long been considered the final refuge of those wishing to avoid phone calls, text messages and the Internet, but this sanctuary is slowly being eroded as more airlines offer in-flight networks and Wi-Fi.
A number of US carriers and Australia’s Qantas have offered connections for some time, while British Airways is set to offer Internet to passengers through a new S-band satellite called Europsat, which will go live in 2016 with the intent of serving the European aviation market.
Virgin Atlantic already offers high speed connectivity on some transatlantic flights from Europe after the Branson-branded airline agreed a deal with Gogo late last year. Budget carrier Ryanair is also considering offering Wi-Fi as part of its push to attract more business passengers.
However some security researchers have raised concerns that such systems might be used by hackers to control aircraft systems.
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