APEX: ViaSat confident about speeds for JetBlue's Ka-service

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JetBlue will officially launch its first aircraft outfitted with Ka-band wi-fi in the first quarter of 2013, the airline says.

The airline plans to offer the service for free to customers until at least 30 aircraft are equipped with the technology.

Robin Hayes, the airline's chief commercial officer, announced the development at the World Low Cost Airlines Congress in London on Monday.

JetBlue now plans to start retrofitting its Embraer E-190 and Airbus A320 in the first quarter of 2013. The carrier previously told Flightglobal that it planned to start the installs by the end of 2012.

Carlsbad, California-based ViaSat is providing the technology via a partnership with JetBlue subsidiary Live TV. Speaking from the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) expo, ViaSat says it is confident that it will be available to provide speeds of at least 12 Mbps per second for each customer on the JetBlue flights.

ViaSat will provide the Ka-band service with capacity on its ViaSat-1 high capacity satellite, which launched last year. The company says that it is the world's highest-capacity Ka-band satellite and has capacity for more than one million ground subscribers using its Excede residential internet service.

ViaSat recently rolled out its Excede service for commercial airlines and says it will plan to divide up the capacity on the satellite between its consumers using the service in their homes and new commercial airline customers depending on demand, with plans to launch more satellites to meet demand.

The satellite operator says it has been testing the technology with LiveTV for at least a year-and-a-half. Part of this testing involves using a vehicle on the ground designed to mirror the aircraft experience. ViaSat says that the system is currently undergoing certification by the Federal Aviation Administration and that inflight tests will commence before the Ka-band network is turned on for passengers to use.

ViaSat plans to have 375 aircraft online using the Ka-band system by the end of 2015, which includes commitments from JetBlue and United Airlines. United says it plans to start installations of the Ka-band system by the end of the year.