JetBlue inks definitive deal to bring Ka-band connectivity to fleet

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JetBlue Airways has inked a definitive agreement with ViaSat to bring Ka-band satellite-based in-flight connectivity to the carrier's entire fleet.

The agreement, which formalizes a memorandum of understanding signed in September 2010, calls for ViaSat to provide satellite broadband terminals for installation on the airline's Airbus A320 and Embraer 190 aircraft along with two-way transmission bandwidth services using the WildBlue satellite broadband network, including the high-capacity ViaSat-1 satellite, which is expected to be launched into orbit this summer.

Initial equipment and services covered in the contract are valued at over $30 million, says ViaSat. JetBlue's LiveTV subsidiary will manage the integration of the ViaSat broadband and related components onboard the aircraft, leading the certification process and handling the installations. LiveTV will also bring Wi-Fi-enabled services into the overall cabin experience.

Speaking to ATI and Flightglobal about the new agreement, JetBlue chief commercial officer Robin Hayes said the carrier is confident it will begin offering Ka-band-supported connectivity to passengers during 2012. "ViaSat-1 has to launch successful and then the timeline will be determined by the engineering work around the antenna, making sure our DirecTV antenna [a Ku antenna for the carrier's 36-channel live television system] and ViaSat Ka antenna can work successfully under the same radome. So it will take a bit of engineering work to make that happen and then the certification process with the FAA."

JetBlue is still studying various price points for the solution. "I think one of the benefits of the ViaSat/LiveTV product is we can actually offer different bundles for different customer needs. For a customer who just wants to email or use their Blackberry that could be one price point, and that may even be something we offer free. We haven't decided yet. Then there is the customer who is surfing the Internet. We have a lot of flexibility and customers can choose the experience they want," says Hayes.

The carrier believes Ka-band will offer higher transmission speeds, provide more bandwidth for each customer, and more attractive airtime pricing than other high-speed in-flight Internet access alternatives. Aircell's air-to-ground (ATG)-based Gogo system is currently offered on myriad US domestic aircraft, while Row 44's Ku-band Internet system

JetBlue will be the first airline to receive the ViaSat Ka-band system, and those initial installations are expected to be quickly followed by deployment onboard the Continental Airlines fleet, as announced on 22 March by LiveTV, and subject to final agreement.