The Mystery of Inflight WiFi Explained

Wifi Explained

I know that explaining how airplanes get inflight WiFi and streaming TV is not an obvious topic for a funeral home.  

I send you emails on diverse topics because it is my goal to help you live a richer, healthier, and more fun life.  And, sometimes I pick topics based upon “stuff” that just catches my eye.  

I don’t know about you, but I have always wondered how inflight airplane services work.

I have been amazed by this technology ever since the first time I flew on JetBlue more than 20 years ago and couldn’t figure out how they got a TV signal to my seat. 

But, now, courtesy of the websites howstuffworks and upgradedpointsI know the answer.  

What You May Want To Know…

Airplanes use two primary methods to provide inflight TV and WiFi – air to ground (ATG), which uses ground-based cell towers, and satellite WiFi that uses two-way signals from satellites orbiting the earth.  


For satellite WiFi, unidirectional antennas on the topside of the airplane send and receive signals from satellites.  The antenna looks like a small dome on the top of the airplane.

In the case of ATG systems, there are antennas on the underside of the aircraft that communicate with special cell phone towers on land.  The antennas look like lightning rods on the wings, belly of the plane, or underside of the tail.

ATG systems have a major drawback…they do not work over oceans.  

On the other hand, satellite WiFi systems can be global and may work over oceans. 

In fact, there are new satellites planned to be launched in 2021 and 2022 that are expected to make inflight WiFi ubiquitous on international flights.  

So, there you have it…the next time you get on an airplane, look above and below the plane, and you will know what type of WiFi system you will be using.

Mark Sunshine

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