JetBlue Airways subsidiary LiveTV has agreed to purchase Verizon Airfone’s network, in a move that enables LiveTV to push forward with offering basic in-flight connectivity across the low-cost carrier’s fleet as well as other airlines that have committed to adopting the e-mail and messaging service, Continental Airlines and Frontier Airlines.
Under the transaction, LiveTV on 1 January will take over Airfone’s assets, including 100 air-to-ground (ATG) towers in the USA that currently support airborne communication services for over 2,400 Magnastar customers in the general aviation market. The network previously facilitated Airfone’s now-defunct seat-back telephone service onboard commercial aircraft.
At one time Airfone envisioned using air-to-ground spectrum to offer airline passengers high-speed connectivity services. It participated in the US Federal Communications Commission’s 2006 auction of 4HHz of spectrum in the 800MHz band allocated to ATG services, but withdrew early in the proceedings. Its competitor Aircell won the exclusive 3MHz license to provide wireless broadband services on commercial aircraft. LiveTV acquired the 1MHz narrowband slice.
Days later, Airfone announced it would exit the airline phone service business, but maintain services for corporate clients. Under a previous FCC decision, however, Airfone was still guaranteed the use of 1MHz for five years, and was given a two-year grace period to relocate its business to that portion of the band.
"They [Airfone] had to be out of Aircell's band by October of this year and our band by 2010," says a LiveTV spokesman. With the deal announced today, LiveTV is now free to press forward with plans for expanding its basic e-mail and messaging service for commercial operators. It has already been using the Airfone network of base stations to support JetBlue’s test of limited connectivity onboard one of its Airbus A320s. Continental and Frontier have also signed for the service.
For Magnastar customers, LiveTV’s planned product enhancements include a next-generation radio supporting both voice and data services.
"Airfone was the pioneer of in-flight connectivity. We look forward to building upon the foundation they have laid to bring email and messaging to all air travellers," says LiveTV CEO Nate Quigley.