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JetBlue To Deploy Advanced Inflight Wi-Fi

Airline partnering with ViaSat to begin placing high-capacity satellite broadband on its aircraft within two years.

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After watching most U.S. airlines deploy Wi-Fi on their aircraft, JetBlue said this week that it plans to install advanced Wi-Fi technology utilizing its LiveTV service and ViaSat's high-capacity satellite technology. The first installations are scheduled to take place by mid 2012.

The company pointed out that inflight technologies have advanced since it first launched its BetaBlue Wi-Fi messaging service.

"In just the three years since we launched BetaBlue, the first commercial aircraft with simple messaging capability, technology has advanced by generations," said Dave Barger, JetBlue's CEO, in a statement. "Rather than invest in current technology, designed to transmit broadcast video and audio, we elected to partner with ViaSat to create broadband functionality worthy of today's interactive personal technology needs."

ViaSat's CEO and chairman Mark Dankberg said the JetBlue service will extend "the passenger internet experience beyond just mail and web pages" and will bring a new world of personalized broadband entertainment to passengers.

The airline said its LiveTV subsidiary will provide Wi-Fi enabled services and manage the integration of the ViaSat broadband onboard the aircraft. JetBlue began assembling a leadership team for LiveTV in 2006 with the goal of bringing affordable connectivity services to airlines.

JetBlue and ViaSat said the Federal Aviation Administration must test and certify the service before it can be installed on its fleet, because the product will be the first of its kind for commercial aviation.

In the meantime, JetBlue could be at a competitive disadvantage against competing airlines, which have been installing their own Wi-Fi systems in recent years. Aircell has cornered much of the U.S. market with its GoGo service, which has been installed on more than 1,000 aircraft. The AirCell service utilizes a network of terrestrial cell towers. Several airlines including AirTran, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines use the GoGo service.

Another service, from Row 44, is based on satellite technology from Hughes Network Systems. It is being deployed by Southwest Airlines.

Inflight Wi-Fi service has undergone a long and tortured history since Boeing lost a reported $1 billion on its Connexion satellite-based service. The Connexion service was abandoned, partly because the technology at the time required heavy equipment.

None of the U.S. inflight services offer voice or VoIP calling because regulatory agencies have banned it. However, OnAir, the major European inflight service, permits voice calling and the European company has aspirations of bringing its service to North America.

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