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LiveTV ready to pick up MagnaStar baton

26th December 2008 - 14:52 GMT | by The Shephard News Team


US general-aviation operators are due for a New Year present in the form of a seamless handover of the MagnaStar terrestrial air-to-ground (ATG) passenger communications service from former owner Verizon to LiveTV.

Verizon used first-generation ATG technology to deliver the MagnaStar service for several years, building up a customer base of around 2,400 aircraft. Then in 2006 the company lost its ATG spectrum in the Federal Communications Commission auction that resulted ultimately in Aircell winning the lion’s share, which it now uses for the Gogo broadband service, and inflight television provider LiveTV getting a 1MHz slice that it plans to dedicate to passenger instant messaging and email.  

At one point it looked as though MagnaStar service would cease at the end of 2006. Then, under the urging of private and US Government customers, the company decided to run it on until the end of this year, all the while looking for some way to cash in its asset. Those efforts came to fruition this year, when LiveTV bought the MagnaStar ground network of 100 base stations across the continental USA and undertook to keep the service running. 

Verizon will maintain network operations for the next five days, with Florida-based LiveTV taking over on New Year’s Day. The companies say there will be no interruption to service during the handover. LiveTV plans ultimately to introduce service enhancements based on a next-generation radio supporting both voice and data services. 

Meantime, LiveTV is working to introduce Kiteline, its new narrowband instant messaging and email service for the airlines. Based on the company’s 1MHz of ATG spectrum and the former Verizon ground network, the service has been selected by LiveTV parent company JetBlue, plus Continental and Frontier Airlines, and is due to go operational in the New Year.

Frontier has been offering its passengers LiveTV’s television service for a number of years. Continental plans to fit its Boeing 737NGs – a total of 157 -700s, 800s, 900s and 900ERs currently in service, with 63 more on order – and 17 Boeing 757-300s for both IM/email and television. Original LiveTV customer JetBlue will roll out the connectivity service across a fleet that currently numbers more than a hundred Airbus A320-200s and 35 Embraer 190s. All three carriers intend to offer Kiteline free of charge to all passengers.

LiveTV also plans to exploit its established ground-based Wireless Aircraft Data Link (WADL) to improve the Kiteline customer experience.  Called Oasis and with a possible introduction date next year, the enhancement will see the WiFi-based WADL – hitherto used with aircraft on the ground for technical support of the inflight TV service - being used to pump time-sensitive and other fresh content onto aircraft servers during between-flight turnrounds. After take-off the content would be available to passengers via their own WiFi-capable devices.

JetBlue, Continental and Frontier have the option of adding Oasis to Kiteline, which would create an illusion of broadband Internet access to complement the basic IM and email offering. According to LiveTV co-founder and chief technology officer Jeff Frisco, the company is open to offering Kiteline/Oasis both to its other current TV customers – WestJet of Canada and Australia’s Virgin Blue – and to other carriers on a standalone basis.

If Kiteline and Oasis are the first two stages of LiveTV’s connectivity strategy, Ku-band satellite broadband based on a soon to be introduced new live TV system could be the third. According to Frisco, the company has launched work on an aircraft antenna capable of supporting the two functions simultaneously.

Meantime, regular JetBlue fliers can look forward soon to finding Kiteline aboard every one of the New York-based low-fare carrier’s aircraft. As implemented on Airbus A320 trials aircraft BetaBlue, which has been offering the service since last December, Kiteline allows passengers to use their WiFi-enabled devices to send and receive email free of charge via accounts with Yahoo! Mail, Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, Windows Live (Hotmail, MSN) and AOL. They can also send and receive Yahoo! instant messages, and users with WiFi-enabled BlackBerries can access their BlackBerry accounts.

The Shephard News Team


The Shephard News Team

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