Passengers on a Qingdao Airlines flight from Qingdao to Chengdu on Tuesday became the first in China to use high-speed internet from a Ka-band satellite, Chinese state media reported. The internet connection used a satellite launched in 2017 by state-owned China Satellite Communications, or China Satcom. The company said passengers could get speeds higher than 100 Mbps on the flight.
By operating in a higher frequency band, Ka-band connections offer higher speeds than older versions of in-flight internet that used Ku-band connections. But higher frequencies also make signals more susceptible to interference from atmospheric conditions like rain. Most flights today still have speeds under 20 Mbps.
China is currently trying to accelerate the development of satellite internet to catch up with US. The main battleground now is low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, in which Elon Musk’s SpaceX has a lead. The company’s Starlink service is set to start offering service this year.
In China, both state-run and private companies are planning to launch thousands of their own satellites into low Earth orbit. The goal is for LEO satellites to provide high-speed internet to areas not covered by ground-based internet. The country also recently added satellite internet to a list of “new infrastructure” projects that will receive greater government support.
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