JetBlue is reportedly close to a deal with ViaSat, a technology company based in Carlsbad, California, to install in-flight wireless access on 160 planes. JetBlue is one of the few major domestic carriers that doesn't offer some sort of wireless Internet access, though it does fly one plane equipped with limited messaging capabilities.
But while JetBlue is late to the party, it seems the airline may be upping the ante in terms of connectivity. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports ViaSat's service offers more bandwidth than current products used by other airlines. "ViaSat says its satellite offers 10 times the capacity of existing Internet satellites," the Union-Tribune reports, "at roughly the same costs. That means it can deliver more bandwidth to subscribers, with typical speeds ranging from two megabits to eight megabits per second."
The downside to this news is that it will take a while for the service to be operational. Reports say installation may not begin until 2012. But CEO David Barger told FlightGlobal.com his airline is looking to the future, not the present. "This system will be designed for the 21st century, not just for today's personal connectivity needs, but with the bandwidth to expand to meet tomorrow's needs as well," Barger said. "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."
For JetBlue, moving into in-flight broadband is long overdue. The airline that pioneered seatback TVs has seemed a bit stagnant lately, especially in light of upstart Virgin America, which offers many of JetBlue's bells and whistles, and then some. By adding wireless to its planes, and doing so with what could be an improved product, the airline would once again assert its position as an industry leader in customer amenities and service. Too bad we'll have to wait at least two years to try it out.