One company that is not ready to give up its market share in the US general aviation community to Aircell is JetBlue Airways subsidiary LiveTV.
The Florida-based company, which owns a licence to use 1MHz of the 4MHz of spectrum in the 800MHz band allocated to air-to-ground services in the USA, has developed a simple, low-cost in-flight data solution for general aviation customers of its Magnastar air-to-ground-based telephone system that requires no additional installed hardware.
Called BlackBerry on-Board (BOB), the solution allows passengers to use BlackBerrys enabled with wi-fi "to do anything in-flight that the BlackBerry does on the ground", such as email or messaging, says LiveTV vice-president of marketing and sales Mike Moeller.
How much will it cost?
- Purchase of pre-configured laptop from LiveTV which includes software licence ($9,995), one per aircraft
- $299 per month service plan per aircraft (1-year service agreement) with unlimited BOB minutes over the Airfone network
- $100 activation fee per aircraft
"We've gone through beta testing and now we've just installed on our first set of customers. We're getting great feedback and the National Business Aviation Association's convention is our roll-out party."
BOB represents a major milestone for LiveTV, which in January 2009 acquired now-defunct Verizon Airfone's assets, including 100 air-to-ground towers in the USA that support Magnastar customers.
The acquisition anchored LiveTV's plan for bringing basic connectivity to commercial airlines, but it also brought with it the Magnastar customer base of well over 2,000 business aircraft.
Realising that voice service alone would not be enough to satisfy today's highlyconnected, tech-savvy travellers, LiveTV's engineers set about finding a way to use the same Magnastar radio and Airfone network to make BlackBerrys enabled with wi-fi operate on board business aircraft.
The result was BOB, a pre-configured laptop that has been turned into an access point that can be carried on and off the aircraft.
"It doesn't need to be installed and an operator's business aircraft don't need any downtime or all the expensive bells and whistles," says Moeller.