Qantas Airways Limited (ASX: QAN) has teamed up with global satellite company ViaSat Inc to provide Australian domestic travellers with free high-speed wi-fi internet access on their aircraft.

The new service expects to feature speeds that are up to 10 times faster than traditional ground-based in-flight internet services (common in the USA),  with speeds of between 12 and 20Mbps to each connected device.

According to Australian Business Traveller (ABT), most home ADSL2+ connections max out at around 10Mbps with ADSL 1 topping out at 8Mbps.

In a statement, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said, “Bringing high-speed Wi-Fi to Australia’s domestic aviation market has been an ambition of ours for a long time – and with ViaSat we now have the right partner to make it happen. Our goal is to give our customers a similar internet experience on board to what they enjoy on the ground.”

“You won’t be limited to checking your email or Facebook – it’s going to be about watching the football live, streaming your favourite TV show or movie, catching up on the latest YouTube videos, or shopping online.”

Even if the Qantas wi-fi service achieves 5Mbps, that’s enough to stream Netflix content in High Definition (HD), according to ABT.

In-flight trials will begin with a single Boeing 737 aircraft in late 2016, with a rollout across Qantas Domestic’s fleet of Airbus A330s and B737s planned from early 2017. The planes will be fitted with special dual band antennas so they can tune into the special Ka and Ku microwave bands used by Australia’s National Broadband network (NBN) Sky Muster satellites and ViaSat’s own global satellite network. ABT says that will allow the planes to switch between the networks to obtain the fastest available signal.

Several airlines already offer satellite or ground-based internet wi-fi to their passengers, including Etihad Airways, American Airlines and Singapore Airlines – although all three charge around A$17 for two hours of access.

Foolish takeaway

It’s another way Qantas aims to keep ahead of arch rival Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd (ASX: VAH), but I can’t imagine it will be long before Virgin announces a similar proposal. Although both will require certification and approval from regulators before passengers can begin using the new service.

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Motley Fool writer/analyst Mike King doesn't own shares in any companies mentioned. You can follow Mike on Twitter @TMFKinga

Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.