JetBlue travelers, the wait for in-flight Wi-Fi is nearly over: an internal company email today revealed the airline intends to roll out high-speed wireless networking in the first quarter of 2013. A memo to crew members obtained by The Verge acknowledges Wi-Fi as a powerful asset that often influences which airline travelers decide to book with. "Customers, especially those traveling for business, with everything else being equal, will choose the airline that offers connectivity, even if the service is spotty or expensive."
JetBlue: existing options are lackluster
However, rather than choosing an existing option like Gogo — which Jetblue derides as slow and unsatisfactory — the company has instead turned to ViaSat for its Wi-Fi solution. We were impressed by a demonstration of ViaSat's Exede technology back in January, and JetBlue seems confident that forming this partnership is the right move to push in-flight networking forward. Specifically, it claims tests have loaded 10 (unspecified) web pages in an average of 1 minute, 18 seconds compared to an unnamed competitor that took over eight minutes to accomplish the same feat.
In the minds of some, price is of even greater importance than speed, and that's a fact that hasn't been lost on JetBlue. The discount airline says it will provide free in-flight connectivity until at least 30 planes have been equipped with the necessary high-speed Ka-band satellites.
Free for the first 30 planes
Our source claims that following this initial trial period, the service will remain free for "basic email and browsing" purposes, though you'll obviously be paying if you hope to stream Netflix during those cross-country flights. Through an existing partnership with LiveTV, JetBlue expects to begin installing the first of these satellites in Q1 2013. The company is reportedly planning to officially unveil its plans at the World Low Cost Airlines Conference this week, so we should know more soon. In the meantime, we've included the full email below.
I'm writing to you from London, where I’m about to reveal some of the details of our Wi-Fi product to the World Low Cost Airlines Conference. I want to make sure you hear it first, of course, so please read on!
Currently, Wi-Fi on board is a competitive advantage. Customers, especially those traveling for business, with everything else being equal, will choose the airline that offers connectivity, even if the service is spotty or expensive.
Understanding how important inflight connectivity is to Customers forces airlines that don’t have Wi-Fi to get in the game, quickly. Airlines can choose ground-to-air services, like Gogo, or satellite-based services like Row 44 or Panasonic. Although the technology is different, the Customer experience is very similar – s l o w.
According to a recent FlightView survey, only a small percentage of Customers are satisfied with the Wi-Fi service models currently offered in-flight and at airports.
The challenge for us was building a Wi-Fi product that broke this slow, frustrating and ultimately unsatisfactory mold. We wanted to find a way to deliver faster and less expensive service that would result in greater satisfaction. With LiveTV partnering with ViaSat, I think we found the sweet spot.
Our Wi-Fi will be lightning fast. In a series of tests, ViaSat’s staff was able to load 10 web pages through our satellite service in an average of 1 minute, 18 seconds! The second-fastest service, commonly deployed by our competitors, took as long as 8 minutes, 42 seconds! Customers are going to know that JetBlue’s Wi-Fi is faster – word will definitely get around.
But to make sure Customers appreciate the difference, we also decided to make the baseline connectivity free, at least until the first 30 aircraft are equipped with our service. If the speed doesn’t get them talking, the free part should!
The difference is in the technology. The Ka-band satellite we launched last October is the latest generation, with capacity equal to 100 last-generation Ku-band satellites. It’s smarter, newer, cheaper and better than anything on the market today for commercial aviation. This technology had only been available to government and private aviation, in fact. We plan to make JetBlue the very first commercial airline to offer this product on board, at altitude.
Our first foray into connectivity, with BetaBlue in 2007, was a great learning experience and I don’t regret it for one minute. It wasn’t easy for anyone to endure the questions and demands for good Wi-Fi from our Customers, but it was the right decision. LiveTV will begin installing ViaSat on our aircraft in the first quarter of 2013 – so stay tuned for more information as it rolls out. I know it will be worth the wait.