Europe is playing catch-up to the US when it comes to in-flight Wi-Fi, but soon passengers won’t have to suffer from slow download speeds while at 30,000ft in the air.

Thanks to a partnership between UK-based satellite company Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom, high-speed Wi-Fi should grace European skies as soon as 2017.

Dubbed the ‘European Aviation Network’, the goal is to combine LTE cell towers and satellite networks to deliver high-speed Internet across the entire continent.

Inmarsat’s 30MHz S-band spectrum satellites cover all 28 EU member states, meaning the satellite manufacturer will be offering much of the infrastructure; while Deutsche Telekom will be providing specially-modified LTE sites, which will be capable of delivering a signal to anything within 80km.

The European Aviation Network is not expected to go into live trials until 2017, although one airline in particular is keen to offer its passengers fast in-flight Wi-Fi sooner rather than later.

Lufthansa will be the launch partner for the European Aviation Network in 2017, although the company expects to roll out satellite-based Wi-Fi on-board many of its flights as soon as next year.

“We are pleased to offer our passengers an outstanding Internet experience on board our short and medium haul flights already from 2016, says Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa.

“This underlines once again that we are pioneers when it comes to digital services on board.

“Together with Deutsche Telekom and Inmarsat, we are thinking further ahead.

“We want to engage in the development of next generation technology to further strengthen our innovative and leading role in this field.

“We continue to strive for excellence when it comes to our passengers’ flying experience and the provision of reliable, consistent broadband connectivity aboard our planes, which will match that of high-speed home broadband in terms of speed and quality, is of extreme importance to us.”

While Lufthansa will be the first airline flying with the European Aviation Network technology on-board, more are expected in the future.

British Airways was rumoured to be in talks with the firm before Lufthansa signed up, although this has not been confirmed by either BA or Inmarsat.

Inmarsat sees incredible benefits with this kind of technology however.

“With this integrated network we can meet the need for capacity, flexibility and quality of service, including the ability to expand quickly to anticipate growth in demand,” says Andy Sukawaty, chairman of Inmarsat.

“The integrated satellite and complementary LTE-based ground network will ensure that Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom together deliver the fastest, best and most consistent in-flight broadband experience that meets the needs of airlines in this region.

“Combined with our global GX (Ka-band) and L-band services, we now have connectivity solutions for the cockpit and the cabin of any type of aircraft, flying in any geography.”

Tim Höttges, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, adds: “This bold step will make Deutsche Telekom the first telecommunications operator to take the advantages of LTE technology to the European airspace and fits perfectly into our strategy to become the leading European telco.

“As a ground-breaking innovation we will roll out a powerful terrestrial network based on LTE within the European Aviation Network.

“This will be the first aviation connectivity network in Europe powered by both LTE and satellite combined!

“Our technology leadership provides a solid foundation for the best customer experience possible – be that on the ground or in the skies – and enables us to work with the finest partners in Europe and beyond.”

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