The number of airline flights that will offer passengers Internet access is growing. JetBlue recently announced it would begin offering Wi-Fi services using ViaSat's satellite technology.
"This system will be designed for the 21st century, not just for today's personal connectivity needs, but with the bandwidth to expand to meet tomorrow's needs as well," said Dave Barger, JetBlue's Chief Executive Officer.
"In just the three years since we launched BetaBlue, the first commercial aircraft with simple messaging capability, technology has advanced by generations. Rather than invest in current technology, designed to transmit broadcast video and audio, we elected to partner with ViaSat to create broadband functionality worthy of today's interactive personal technology needs."
JetBlue pioneered the use of television in the cabin, Barger said. The airline, since its launch, has provided video screens at each seat, allowing passengers to choose from dozens of cable TV channels during flights.
ViaSat and JetBlue saiid they have entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the provision of in-flight broadband access and other services for customers on JetBlue's fleet of more than 160 aircraft using ViaSat Ka-band satellites.
Under the arrangement, ViaSat will provide Ka-band antenna components and SurfBeam2 modems for installation on the airline's EMBRAER E190 and Airbus A320 aircraft types along with two-way transmission bandwidth services using the WildBlue-1 and high-capacity ViaSat-1 satellites. JetBlue subsidiary, LiveTV LLC, will manage the integration of the ViaSat broadband and related components onboard the aircraft as well as providing the Wi-Fi enabled services into the overall cabin experience.
LiveTV, a wholly owned subsidiary of JetBlue, will install and lead the certification process of the new system. Because the product will be the first of its kind for commercial aviation, the system must be tested, and certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration, prior to installation fleet-wide. JetBlue and ViaSat expect the first installations to occur by mid-2012.
"Combining LiveTV's expertise in entertainment and content management with ViaSat's satellite technology means we can create products and services for airline customers that are unparalleled in the industry today," said Glenn Latta, LiveTV's President.
Passengers will have to pay for the services, of course, though JetBlue has not yet announced a price structure. New York Times travel columnist Joe Sharkey says it remains to be seen if consumers will pay for something in the air they often can get for free on the ground. The cost of Wi-Fi access can be more than $12 on a long flight.
But ConsumerAffairs.com's Truman Lewis, who commutes frequently between Los Angeles and Washington on Virgin America, which has offered Wi-Fi access throughout its fleet for about two years, said he can't imagine traveling without Wi-Fi.
"Of course you have to pay for it, why wouldn't you?" Lewis said. "It's about $12 if you buy a day pass or around $30 per month on a regular subscription. Anyone who travels regularly for business will tell you that having email and Web access in flight is a lot more essential than movies, leather seats or fresh food."
"I'm not sure where Sharkey finds free Web access on the ground," Lewis said. "Unless he's poaching it from his neighbor."