JetBlue vows to offer best in-flight broadband under ViaSat deal

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Vowing to offer the industry's "best in-flight broadband" in the commercial sector, JetBlue Airways has struck a deal with ViaSat that will see the carrier bring high-speed Ka-band satellite-based in-flight connectivity to its entire 160-strong aircraft fleet.

Under a memorandum of understanding between the two parties, ViaSat will provide Ka-band antenna components and "SurfBeam2" modems for installation on JetBlue's Airbus A320 and Embraer 190 aircraft along with two-way transmission bandwidth services using the WildBlue-1 and high-capacity ViaSat-1 satellites.

JetBlue subsidiary LiveTV, which supplies live television across JetBlue's fleet, 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, says JetBlue.

"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," says JetBlue chief executive Dave Barger.

"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."

The deal will represent a veritable coup for ViaSat, which has fought to enter the commercial market for years. It could also herald a new era for Ka-band satellite-based connectivity, which is touted by operators as surpassing Ku-band connectivity in speed and cost efficiency.

Because JetBlue's Ka-band 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", notes JetBlue, which says it expects first installations to occur by mid-2012.

Earlier in the decade Connexion by Boeing offered a Ku-band satellite-based service, but it notoriously shuttered operations in late 2006. Since that time, Panasonic Avionics and Row 44 have developed Ku systems and have been studying upgrade paths to Ka.

FLINK: Follow the fast-moving world on on-board connectivity at flightglobal.com/ifec