JetBlue joins the ranks of connected airlines today as the company officially launches their “Fly-Fi” in-flight internet service. The new offering offers up the fastest internet download speeds available on board a plane. JetBlue has three planes currently active with the system and will have five flying by the end of 2013. More than 140 planes will be equipped by the end of 2014 and the Embraer E190 planes will be configured in 2015.
Fly-Fi is the first in-flight commercial service to use Ka-band satellite connectivity. Operating in conjunction with LiveTV and ViaSat, the Ka system is faster and less expensive to operate. For JetBlue this means that the carrier is able to offer the “true broadband speeds” up to 22Mbit to each aircraft. Rachel McCarthy, VP Inflight Experience, has been working on the Fly-Fi implementation for more than two years now. They started evaluating platforms after other options were available in the market and felt that those would not meet the needs of JetBlue users. As McCarthy observed, “The current models that were out there had insufficient capacity. We knew that being JetBlue we had to offer more to our customers. We’re following through on that promise.”
By choosing the Ka-band solution in conjunction with ViaSat JetBlue and LiveTV have much more control over the entire connectivity experience for their customers. “We have the ability to control the pricing…the amount of bandwidth really excited us,” McCarthy noted during a demo flight this morning out of JFK. JetBlue is offering a tiered pricing and performance model initially. There will be a free option at least through June 2014 as well as a premium option on board. The Fly-Fi Plus premium option is priced at $9 per hour and will support full media streaming; the base option works very well for basic browsing and even short video or audio streaming but not for full-length movies or TV clips.
Also on board was Chris Collins, chief operating officer of LiveTV. Collins was similarly excited about not only the opportunities available as JetBlue activates the system this week but also the other opportunities their relationship with ViaSat offer once the connectivity is in place. Collins sees the current system as the baseline, not the end-product. “This platform allows for so much more in the way of development and product delivery that air-to-ground or Ku would never be able to do.” He was somewhat tight-lipped when pressed for details but it is clear that LiveTV and ViaSat see lots of potential for IFEC opportunities once they get the system on board.
With more than 400 aircraft expected to be equipped in the next 24 months there will be many more passengers able to connect in flight. And, if the demo flight is anything to judge by, their experience should be quite spectacular.