EVEN as the number of airlines is dwindling — look at Southwest’s plan to buy AirTran, announced on Monday, and the imminent merger of United and Continental — the business of providing in-flight Wi-Fi service on domestic airlines is expanding.
One reason, Wi-Fi industry executives say, is that as the industry settles in for the long haul, airlines will have a greater need to differentiate their in-flight service, using offerings like Wi-Fi.
ViaSat, a satellite communications company, is the latest entrant in the in-flight Wi-Fi business. It announced a deal last week with JetBlue to provide what it called next-generation Wi-Fi service on JetBlue’s 160-plane fleet of 160 Airbus A320s and Embraer 190s.
ViaSat’s Wi-Fi service will bring a great increase in in-flight bandwidth at a “lower cost per bit,” said Richard A. Baldridge, the company’s president and chief operating officer. The ViaSat system will enable users to go beyond existing services that basically offer Internet browsing and e-mail, he said.
If all goes according to plan, ViaSat will launch a 130-gigabit broadband satellite next year that will enable it to vastly expand bandwidth for satellite-based Internet systems and provide JetBlue and its in-flight video partner, LiveTV, a media-rich two-way Wi-Fi experience, Mr. Baldridge said.