As airlines all over the world move to bring in-flight entertainment and connectivity to passengers, JetBlue Airways subsidiary LiveTV is gearing up to go global with its own dedicated Ku-band satellite-supported live television service for overseas flights.
Passengers will initially be able to access three to five channels of live television wirelessly via their own handheld devices or through legacy IFE systems, said LiveTV, which is offering the so-called Global LiveTV solution to airlines in either standalone form or together with high-speed Internet.
The ambitious move represents a major departure from LiveTV's traditional strategy. The company is best known for bringing DirecTV to the cabins of narrowbody aircraft operated by JetBlue, United-Continental, Frontier Airlines, and WestJet. And more recently, LiveTV partnered with ViaSat to next year install Ka-band-based connectivity on JetBlue and United-Continental aircraft in the domestic US, where Ka coverage currently exists, and will be expanded with the launch of a ViaSat-1 satellite.
But LiveTV is now "being pulled" into the international arena, as interest grows for live television as well as high-speed connectivity on overseas flights, company vice-president of sales and marketing Mike Moeller told Air Transport Intelligence and Flightglobal in an interview today.
"We've always been working on regional systems and we needed the right partnerships to be able to go do this outside of the US or outside of the direct-to-home providers. Thales and Panasonic have dominated that space. So now, for airlines that have widebody fleets, and love television and want television on international flights, we have a solution."
For Global LiveTV, the JetBlue unit will "start with three to five channels, comprising sports and news and use all of the [content] relationships we have", said Moeller. Because there is no direct-to-home broadcast television service available over the Atlantic, and TV over IP is, in LiveTV's assessment, prohibitively expensive, the firm believes "it's better to get a [Ku] transponder, segment it, and push those channels over that".
He added: "We'll bring it down, decode it and hand it off to a legacy [embedded] IFE system or to passengers' own personal devices via onboard Wi-Fi. We'll be doing all of the hardware - the radome, antenna, head-end, decoding of the channels and the handing it off."
The same Ku antenna will be able to support in-flight high-speed Internet, according to Moeller. Relationships will be formed with satellite providers. "It could be ViaSat, Eutelsat, those that have Ku-band capacity."
Carriers will also have the option of augmenting the Ku solution with a less costly Ka connectivity service in Europe and the US - where there is Ka coverage - and later, in the 2014/15 timeframe with Inmarsat's new Global Xpress Ka-band aeronautical service, he said.
LiveTV is targeting installations of Global LiveTV for "late next year". Initial launch will occur over the Atlantic, although additional regions will be added to meet specific customer demands, and where Ku coverage exists. LiveTV has not yet secured a customer for its new offering but is "talking to a lot of people", said Moeller.