United to launch Ka-band wi-fi later this year

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United Airlines confirms it has installed the equipment for ViaSat's satellite-based Ka-band service on a Boeing 737 aircraft in its fleet and plans to launch the service in the fourth quarter, says the carrier.

The Chicago-based Star Alliance carrier says it is undergoing the US Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) certification process for the equipment, which includes a Ka-band antenna and accompanying radome installation. It is unclear whether the launch later this year will be a full-scale commercial roll-out or the testing that airlines typically carry out after new connectivity installations.

United's Continental subsidiary first signed a letter of intent with satellite operator ViaSat and JetBlue subsidiary LiveTV in 2011 to install the service on more than 200 737 and 757 aircraft.

JetBlue, the launch customer for the Ka-band service, told investors on a 30 July earnings call that it expects to start flying three Airbus A320s with its Ka-band connectivity later this year, branded "Fly-Fi." The airline is awaiting an FAA supplemental type certificate for the equipment after undergoing several flight tests on an Airbus A320 aircraft in June, with plans to roll out the service on that fleet before expanding it to its Embraer 190 jets later on.

ViaSat's inflight broadband is designed to provide a connection of up to 12 Mbps or more to each individual passenger on board the aircraft. The California-based firm has already launched its ViaSat-1 satellite to provide coverage within the USA and plans to expand capacity to new areas in 2016 with the launch of ViaSat-2, which offers coverage across North, Central and South America and across the Atlantic.