LiveTV is developing a new connectivity solution that would enable carriers to offer passengers a broadband-like experience during flight with substantial ease.
The service, dubbed Oasis, has not yet been launched, although this could occur as early as 2009, said LiveTV co-founder and chief technology officer Jeff Frisco from the company's headquarters in Melbourne, Florida.
Significantly, however, LiveTV is open to offering Oasis to current airline customers of its live television systems or on a standalone basis.
"A great target may be regional fleets that cannot support a pay model. This could be standalone," says LiveTV VP of marketing and sales Mike Moeller.
He stresses, however, that LiveTV's business strategy of offering "IFE first and connectivity second" remains in play.
LiveTV is best known for its highly successful live television systems, which are installed on the fleets of parent JetBlue Airways, Frontier Airlines, WestJet in Canada and Australia's Virgin Blue. Continental Airlines is LiveTV's newest customer and will offer satellite programming on a large portion of its Boeing narrowbody fleet beginning early next year.
However, in late 2007 LiveTV began offering a basic in-flight connectivity service called Kiteline on a JetBlue aircraft. Kiteline supports free messaging and e-mail using the 1MHz slice of air-to-ground (ATG) spectrum that LiveTV acquired during the US Federal Communications Commission's 2006 auction of 4HHz of spectrum in the 800MHz band allocated to ATG services.
JetBlue recently said it intends to offer fleet-wide connectivity after testing Kiteline, while Frontier and Continental are also turning to LiveTV for connectivity.
Oasis, named thusly because it is "a beautiful place made possible with data", represents the second step in LiveTV's connectivity strategy, says Frisco. The service will combine the low data rate capability of Kiteline with LiveTV's ability to upload large amounts of cached content to onboard servers via its wireless aircraft data link (WADL).
For several years WADL has provided JetBlue with continuous remote-video monitoring of its aircraft cabins on the ground. But it also enables movies as well as relatively fresh stored content to be uploaded to the aircraft.
By harnessing Kiteline and WADL, LiveTV will be able to offer a "feels like broadband" experience, says Frisco. The solution would be cost efficient because content storage "is cheap".
Moeller says access to Oasis and "various aspects" of the service would be free for passengers, including possibly email. Other parts of the service - movies for instance - would cost a fee.
At present, a number of in-flight connectivity providers are either offering or are planning to offer broadband solutions, including Ku band-based ViaSat, Row 44 and Panasonic as well as ATG-based Aircell, which owns an exclusive 3MHz license to provide wireless broadband on commercial aircraft.
Aircell's system is currently being trialled on American Airlines' fleet of 15 transcontinental Boeing 767-200s. So far the Colorado-based firm has kept usage data close to its chest.
IFE and in-flight connectivity consultant Michael Planey believes that with Oasis, LiveTV is proposing "a reasonable approach that allows its customers to essentially dip their toe into the water without having to jump into the water and sign up for a 10-year agreement for connectivity services, which is the kind of stuff that Aircell and Row 44 are proposing".
In five years, the passenger demand for broadband "will outstrip what this Kiteline and Oasis product will be able to deliver", he suggests, but this will give LiveTV time to develop a broadband connectivity solution for customers.
LiveTV is already making headway on this front. The third step in the firm's three-pronged connectivity strategy involves potentially offering a Ku band-based solution in tandem with LiveTV's soon-to-be-launched third generation live television system. LiveTV engineers are currently working on an antenna to support the dual service.
LiveTV is not yet convinced, however, that there is a market for a pay-for-service broadband connectivity model and continues to take a "hedge and wait" approach.
"If Row 44 and Aircell prove that people will pay $10 or $20 [for broadband] and the doubt is out of the model, we can do a new antenna that does both [DBS] TV and broadband," says Frisco.
Nonetheless, LiveTV still sees live television as the killer application for today's entertainment-hungry world. "TV is the drug," says Frisco.