JetBlue to launch fast free in-flight Wi-Fi in 2013

The airline carrier thinks offering fast Wi-Fi is a game changer for customers, so it's about to begin offering the speedy ViaSat service that will be free for an initial trial period.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

JetBlue will begin offering free in-flight Wi-Fi that is supposedly faster than anything its competitors have, according to The Verge.

An internal company e-mail recently sent updated employees about the new high-speed wireless plans that should be hitting the fleet in the first quarter of 2013. The official announcement is expected to be made at the World Low Cost Airlines Conference this week, but The Verge got a copy of the e-mail today.

Here are some more details from the e-mail:

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 in-flight 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.

According to JetBlue, ViaSat can load 10 Web pages in a little more than a minute, whereas other in-flight Wi-Fi services can take up to 10 minutes to achieve the same feat. It says that ViaSat uses a different technology that before now has been available only to government and private planes. The company says that it will be fast enough to stream movies and TV shows on Netflix while on board.

In addition to getting a competitive edge with a faster service, the company also said that it will be offering the service for free at first. Apparently, while JetBlue irons out the kinks, the baseline connectivity will be free until the first 30 airplanes are loaded with the service. It's not yet clear what the airline will charge for the service once the trial period ends.

Last year, Virgin America stepped up its Wi-Fi service by offering Gogo's next-generation ATG-4 service. According to Virgin America, the new service increased Wi-Fi capacity by about four times over what the previous performance was.