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LiveTV to add ground wireless broadband to connectivity mix

7th November 2008 - 15:32 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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LiveTV plans to exploit its established ground-based Wireless Aircraft Data Link (WADL) to improve the customer experience associated with its new narrowband connectivity service, which has been selected by parent company JetBlue, Continental and Frontier Airlines.

According to British aerospace weekly Flight International, the Florida-based in-flight TV provider could start offering the service enhancement as early as next year. Called Oasis, it will see the WiFi-based WADL – hitherto used with aircraft on the ground for technical support of the in-flight TV service - being used to pump time-sensitive and other fresh content onto aircraft servers during turnrounds between flights. After take-off the content would be available to passengers via their own WiFi-capable devices.

Personal WiFi devices are also the gateway to LiveTV’s air-to-ground instant messaging and email service. Branded Kiteline and based on the 1MHz of ATG spectrum that LiveTV won at auction in 2006, it is due to be introduced next year by JetBlue, Continental and Frontier.

The last 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 plans to 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.
    
Now the three airlines have the option of adding in Oasis, 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.

But it’s not rushing in, contending that the business case for paying broadband services like those now offered by Aircell (ATG) and being developed by Row 44 and Panasonic (Ku-band) has not yet been proved. “If Row 44 and Aircell prove that people will pay $10 or $20 and the doubt is out of the model, we can do a new antenna that does both TV and broadband,” says Frisco.

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 BlackBerrys can access their BlackBerry accounts.

The Shephard News Team

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