United Airlines prepares to offer satellite-based Wi-Fi service on some flights this year, starting with its wide-body aircraft.
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United Airlines has installed Panasonic Avionics Corporation's Ku-band satellite technology on some of its wide-body aircraft in order to provide Wi-Fi Internet service to passengers. Internet service will first be offered on long-haul flights, followed later this year on shorter flights.
The first planes to get the satellite Internet service are Boeing 747s, which are used to cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and two Airbus 319s, which are used for some cross-country domestic routes. United said it should have the satellite-based Wi-Fi service available on about 300 planes by the end of the year. This includes its Boeing 737, 757, 767, 777, and 787 aircraft. (The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is not expected to enter service for United until the third quarter.)
United will offer the Wi-Fi service to passengers at a range of price points. Interestingly, the airline will offer two different speeds, though it hasn't specified exactly what those speeds will be. The slower service will cost between $3.99 and $14.99 and faster service will cost between $5.99 and $19.99 per flight, depending on the duration. United pointed out that both ranges are initial prices and noted that they may evolve over time.
The Ku-band satellite-based service offers faster data speeds than some competing air-to-ground services, such as GoGo. Before it merged with Continental, United offered GoGo on some of its long-haul, cross-country flights. Continental, however, never offered Wi-Fi Internet service to passengers.
GoGo, which is run by Aircell, uses land-based towers to communicate with aircraft as they fly overhead. The service is used by a wide range of air carriers, including American Airlines and Delta Airlines.
"Satellite-based Wi-Fi service enables us to better serve our customers and offer them more of what they want in a global airline," said Jim Compton, vice chairman and chief revenue officer at United. "With this new service, we continue to build the airline that customers want to fly."
The service will allow passengers to use their smartphones, tablets, netbooks and laptops while in the air. They'll be able to browse the Internet, upload and download files, and use instant messenger systems. Tools such as VoIP calling will likely not be supported.
United has yet to specify exactly when the service will become available.
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