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Wi-Fi Coming to JetBlue and It's Free... For Now

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Starting in 2013, JetBlue will offer free Wi-Fi until the service is completely installed on its fleet.

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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)."

Twitter: @sterlingwong
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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