The in-flight internet connectivity market has lost a competitor with the news that the Kiteline product is officially shelved. Kiteline was initially launched as a lower bandwidth cellular solution to in-flight connectivity, essentially the same concept as the Aircell gogo product, but with limited features – only certain websites would work – and a lower price point to both the airlines and the end-users. Since the launch of the original plane with the product, JetBlue’s BetaBlue, several years ago the development of the product has languished in development. Despite an announcement of a trial in Q2 2010 with Continental Airlines an updated the product has never seen the light of day. The Continental trial was delayed indefinitely and now the Kiteline project is, by some accounts, dead.
Ultimately the problem with the product came in the inability for LiveTV to source an antenna to mount on the aircraft that would meet the performance, weight and cost requirements.BetaBlue operates on a legacy Airfone antenna that was hacked together to provide data connectivity to the aircraft. It was functional enough to prove the concept but not viable in the long term. That’s where the need for the new antenna system came into play. That effort was contracted out to a Canadian company. That company, however, was unable to deliver a working model. Ultimately, after a number of delays in the development cycle, the contract was terminated. No further development is expected in the near-term. The future of the frequency allocation that LiveTV holds for the service is uncertain at this time. LiveTV officials offered no comment when queried.
So, what’s next in the world of in-flight connectivity? There’s still Aircell, the leader in the US market, with deployments active in roughly ten airlines. Row44, leveraging a Ku-band satellite solution is still in the market with their Southwest deployment in progress though, much like AIrcell, the business plan that they are operating under seems somewhat questionable. There is also the Panasonic Ku-band solution that Lufthansa has committed to for its long-haul fleet.
And then there is the dream of a Ka-band solution. Promising significantly higher speeds and dramatically lower costs versus the Ku-band options Ka seems to be the holy grail. Of course, no one has a functional product out there yet, but the idea continues to draw interest from various parties and is the target of perhaps the most R&D efforts at this point. There is nothing stopping the folks at LiveTV from moving into the satellite-based service space, though they haven’t made any formal announcement of such a change.
It is always a shame to see a competitor drop out of the market, especially when they promised so much. Then again, perhaps it was such bold promises – particularly with no history of developing a similar product – that should have been a red flag on the Kiteline dream. Hopefully they come back with another option in the future. Gogo is great but on the expensive side and the market adoption still lags when it isn’t being given away through a promo of some sort. When only 20% of the passengers are using it on flights when it is free that is not a tremendous vote of confidence in the commercial viability of the product.
So, what’s the next big thing in in-flight connectivity? Hard to say for certain, but it looks like a terrestrial-based product from LiveTV is not in the cards.