If you’re an Internet addict who cannot stand flying without checking your social media accounts or the latest sports results, JetBlue
(NASDAQ:JBLU) has some good news for you.
Starting from the first quarter of 2013, the low-cost airline will introduce free basic Wi-Fi to all of its passengers.
JetBlue says that its new Wi-Fi service will be free, at least until its installation is completed on all 30 planes in the company’s fleet. A spokesperson for JetBlue told CBS News
that the airline has yet to decide whether or not it plans to eventually charge for the service.
This isn’t the first time that an airline has offered free Wi-Fi service. During the holiday season of 2010, Google
(NASDAQ:GOOG) partnered with AirTran
(NYSE:DAL), and Virgin America to offer free Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi on flights between November 20, 2010 and January 2, 2011.
As pointed out by Slate, paid in-flight Wi-Fi services are not exactly popular (used by only 4% of passengers
) because the Internet connection usually turns out to be slow and unreliable. Imagine how that problem would be exacerbated by more people on the plane accessing it at the same time since it’s free. (Think the “truly abysmal
” service on the Amtrak, as The Economist
puts it.) However, JetBlue’s Wi-Fi service will be better, the company argues, because it will use a different satellite from communications company ViaSat
(NASDAQ:VSAT). JetBlue asserts in an internal memo leaked to The Verge
that its in-flight Wi-Fi could offer speeds as fast as 12 Mbps per passenger on a flight. The memo says:
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 one minute, 18 seconds! The second-fastest service, commonly deployed by our competitors, took as long as eight 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.
Still, don’t expect lightning-fast speeds from JetBlue’s Wi-Fi service, says GigaOm, because the cost of delivering data in the clouds is simply too expensive.
“Given the cost, the smaller pipe that satellite broadband offers, it should be easy to understand why you can’t expect to get the same Wi-Fi in a plane as you do at home, or even at Starbucks. At its median, it’s 20 times the cost of cellular data and the bandwidth is roughly that of a 3G network,” argues GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham
She continues, “All Wi-Fi is not created equal — the backhaul to the Internet determines its capacity and how quickly you can download things. Your home Wi-Fi, if connected to a fast cable or fiber connection, is connected to a fire hose. The Wi-Fi from an LTE mobile hotspot is more akin to a garden hose and the Wi-Fi from current in-plane systems is like a drinking straw (some like L-band are like cocktail straws).”
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