Review: Norwegian WiFi - Slow but Useful
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Covered in the Article
- Norwegian Air's WiFi
- WiFi Packages
- Our Experiences with Norwegian's WiFi
- Flight Information via WiFi
- Bottom Line
Norwegian Air's WiFi
Norwegian Air Shuttle was the first airline to launch a free in-flight WiFi service in 2011 for European routes. During those days, free WiFi was a clear advantage in terms of marketing against other airlines in Europe. Even though Norwegian's free WiFi didn't always work well, passengers were happy to have complimentary online connectivity on holiday and business trips.
Now more than 10 years have gone and Norwegian's in-flight WiFi has become a paid service. Meanwhile, also other airlines have introduced WiFi for short and long-haul routes. One thing is common, almost all airlines charge a small fee for WiFi usage.
Norwegian's original WiFi was criticized for being congested and the main reason for that was probably the free price leading to multiple users at the same time. To make the service better, Norwegian changed WiFi to a paid service. This change gave the airline another advantage too, paid WiFi service is now another way to collect money from travellers in a challenging market environment.
Aircraft with WiFi
WiFi systems have been installed to the majority of Norwegian's Boeing 737-800 and MAX fleet. You can expect to have an internet connection option always when the flight is operated by Norwegian itself.
How In-flight WiFi Works?
Inside the aeroplane, there are WiFi base stations to which users' devices connect. From the aircraft, internet traffic is tunnelled to a ground station via a satellite and from the ground station, finally to the public internet. The satellite connection is the most complex part of the system. Satellites and the aircraft move at a high velocity which leads to needing to adjust the aircraft's antenna continuously.
Usually in the cabin, there is also a proxy that keeps a local cache. With the aid of the proxy, redundant data is not transferred between the aircraft and the internet again and again but the plane's proxy keeps copies of popular content. Also, the captive portal and the flight information system are located inside the plane. The portal displays users a web page where Premium WiFi can be purchased and also shares flight status information.
Norwegian's WiFi has three levels of service.
Surf: A Free Time-Limited Internet Connection
The free WiFi is called Surf and it is almost like Norwegian's original WiFi but this free WiFi connection is limited to 15 minutes. Everyone can use Surf without paying a fee or providing any personal or card details. Norwegian describes that this connection is slower and probably meant only for web browsing. According to our experiences, also instant messaging works well.
Stream Limited: WiFi for 1 Hour
Stream is a premium connection package. The service is ideal for streaming, social media and surfing. This service plan is limited to 1 hour.
Norwegian promises the connection to be fast but does not guarantee any bandwidth level. The price is about 4 euros for 60 minutes.
Stream Unlimited: WiFi for the Whole Flight
The Stream plan can also be bought for the whole duration of the flight. The price is about 8 euros.
We tested a VPN connection through Norwegian's Stream service and it worked without issues.
Our Experiences with Norwegian's WiFi
We have tested Norwegian WiFi multiple times. Experiences in this article were collected on the flight from Helsinki to Tivat with Norwegian's Boeing 737-800 aircraft in 2022. First, we tested the free basic WiFi and after that, the Stream plan which cost 8 euros for the whole duration of the flight. The prices will most likely differ depending on the route. Compared to other airlines, the price range of Norwegian's WiFi service are considerably more affordable.
Connecting to WiFi
You can connect to WiFi with any WiFi-enabled device. For example, using a mobile phone, tablet or computer. First, you need to connect to the aircraft's WiFi network and then open a portal with a web browser, like Chrome. On the portal, you can choose which WiFi package you wish to use.
Paid packages can be bought directly with a payment card or you can buy a voucher from the crew. With the voucher code, the WiFi package can then be activated.
The user experience is probably the most important metric for internet connectivity but we made also a few simple technical measurements to see if the results match our experiences.
We measured the download speed with a speed test service on the internet. On the free WiFi, the result was low but much more than Norwegian's estimate, 0.128 Mbit/s. On the paid Stream plan, the measured speed was about 2 Mbit/s. In comparison, we have also tested Finnair WiFi whose speed was 15 Mbit/s.
After the download speed test, we measured the connection delay which tells how fast a user can expect any kind of reply from servers. According to our measurements, the lowest delay way about 850ms (almost a second!). This is the shortest time how long it takes before you get any reply from a server no matter what service you are using. Because the aircraft's internet connection uses satellites, the delay is an unfortunate side effect. Good quality home internet has a delay of 10 to 20 ms. This is something that can't be easily improved when using satellite technology.
The connection speed that a user experinces depends on the delay and the available bandwidth.
Our technical measurements were simple but it seems that the available bandwidth between the internet and the aircraft is low. All users in the same aircraft share the same bandwidth. The more users online, the worse the browsing quality experience will be.
To be honest, nobody should expect any airline to offer excellent quality internet connectivity. As long as the connection uses satellites, the delay stays high which affects the user experience. Also, the whole aircraft usually has much less bandwidth than a single mobile phone on the ground.
A good thing was that the connection was stable during our experiments.
We have tested a similar WiFi service on Finnair's short-haul flight on Airbus A321. Finnair's WiFi might be a little better. Before the purchase decision, Finnair shares facts about the gaps in the satellite coverage. The user gets well-informed about what to expect and when to expect communication breaks.
According to our opinion, Norwegian's free WiFi is good enough for instant messaging, emailing and simple web browsing. The paid Stream service is better for streaming and VPN connections. You can't expect the same user experience as at your home but using the internet in an aircraft requires much more patience. Since the price of the WiFi connection is small, it still gives enough value for the money.
The WiFi connection is not secure. It is important to use applications which have integrated encryption. On a web browser, we advise checking that the website is encrypted which can be recognized from the HTTPS prefix or a lock symbol in the address bar. Aircraft is not a place to handle confidential information without proper tools.
We understand that the network does not provide security itself so we only use secure applications in an aircraft.
Flight Information via WiFi
A nice extra feature of Norwegian's WiFi is that you will get real-time flight information on the portal. With a web browser, you can check the aircraft's speed, altitude and current direction. Also, the location is shared on a map and the estimated remaining flight time. This service works fast because all the data comes directly from the aircraft's systems.
The portal also shares information about your flight destination. Using the portal is free of charge.
- Is Norwegian Air's WiFi free to use?
- You can try WiFi free of charge for a short period but after that, you need to pay.
- How much does Norwegian WiFi cost?
- During our previous flight, WiFi cost 4 euros for an hour and 8 euros for the whole duration of the flight.
- How do I pay for WiFi?
- You can pay with a credit card or buy a voucher from the crew.
- What is WiFi suitable for?
- Aircraft WiFi is best for messaging, sending emails and simple browsing. VPN and streaming work but they are slow to use.
- What devices can I connect to WiFi on an aircraft?
- Any WiFi-enabled device. For example, a mobile phone, tablet or computer.
- Is WiFi available for the whole duration of the flight?
- Yes. However, you can't use WiFi during the take-off and landing. There may also be coverage gaps during the cruising.
If you need a stable internet connection during a Norwegian flight, you should buy the premium Stream WiFi service. It is faster and more stable than the free time-limited plan. Norwegian promises the speed to be as good as in an internet cafe or on a mobile phone but the reality is worse. The speed is much lower than with public WiFi. The connection is still good enough for simple working and entertainment purposes.
If you just wish to do random web browsing and send a few messages, the free Surf connection is good enough. Remember though its usage is time-limited.
Have you tested Norwegian's WiFi? How was your experience?