Continental picks LiveTV's superfast Ka-band Internet for fleet

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Continental Airlines has signed a letter of intent (LOI) with JetBlue Airways subsidiary LiveTV to bring in-flight Wi-Fi - via Ka-band satellite - to more than 200 domestic aircraft equipped with LiveTV's 95-channel in-seat live television systems.

The deal with Continental represents what could be considered a watershed moment for LiveTV, which, while having successfully deployed Ku-band satellite-based DirecTV in-flight entertainment with several airlines, has struggled for years to gain traction in the Wi-Fi market with its lower-bandwidth air-to-ground (ATG)-based Kiteline in-flight email/messaging service.

LiveTV has since refocused its efforts on offering an ultra-high-speed Ka-band offering, in partnership with satellite communications specialist ViaSat, and succeeded in securing both United-Continental Holdings subsidiary Continental, as evidenced by today's LOI announcement, in addition to reaching a fleet-wide equipage deal last year with parent JetBlue.

The Ka-band service being brought to Continental's fleet will utilize the same ViaSat-1 satellite - set for launch later this year - that will help support JetBlue's in-flight connectivity plans.

United Airlines currently offers Aircell's Gogo ATG-based in-flight high-speed Internet service on 14 aircraft, including on all p.s flights linking New York JFK with Los Angeles and San Francisco. It is unclear if United intents to extend its Gogo equipage across its own fleet, or thrash out a deal with LiveTV for Ka-band service.

However, United-Continental president and CEO Jeff Smisek said today during a JP Morgan Aviation, Transportation and Defence conference that United may work with a different set of suppliers to provide Wi-Fi across its entire fleet. In international markets, for example, the Ka-band service supported by ViaSat-1 will not cover off-shore or overseas operations. For that, United will either need to adopt a Ku-band solution in the near-term or the global Ka-band solution on offer from Inmarsat beginning around the 2015 timeframe.

Aircell recently announced it is now offering a Ku solution to its airline partners for operations outside the United States, as part of the Chicago-headquartered firm's technology path, which will also see global Ka offered from 2015.

"The planned expansion of in-flight Wi-Fi services underscores the company's commitment to providing unique options that enable customers to customize their travel experience," says United-Continental in a statement.

It says the LOI between Continental and LiveTV "provides the framework for a definitive agreement to be negotiated with LiveTV".