There was plenty of news in this morning’s quarterly earnings call for United Airlines. As per usual, most of it was focused on the financial numbers but there were a few interesting bits that came out which are actually of interest to passengers rather than investors. Wedged between a screed about potential new taxes on the industry and mention of aircraft retirements was a very simple statement by CEO Jeff Smisek: Wifi is coming to the mainline fleet.
I was actually caught a bit off-guard by the comment and haven’t seen the transcript yet to confirm if he qualified that statement with the word "domestic" but apparently that doesn’t matter much as rumors surrounding the announcement suggest that it quite likely has potential to be a global deployment. That’s HUGE.
Subsidiary Continental has been dancing with LiveTV for a few years now, trying to get some in-flight internet into service from the provider. LiveTV hasn’t been able to deliver, however, and that’s been quite frustrating. The recent successful launch of ViaSat-1 will allow LiveTV to get their service up and running next year but apparently that’s not sufficient for United; they’re moving on. At least for part of the fleet. Apparently the new announcement might only be for the subsidiary United portion of the fleet, with LiveTV keeping the Continental portion.
The winner of the contract is apparently Panasonic Systems according to Runway Girl, who has great sources for this type of information. Panasonic currently supports in-flight wifi via a Ku-band satellite network. This is slower than the Ka-band service that LiveTV/ViaSat are launching but it is also available today. And Panasonic has announced that they will have a combination Ku/Ka antenna available reasonably soon which should allow the product to scale up as the network options become available. Oh, and Panasonic has a partnership with ViaSat similar to LiveTV so they might even end up using the same satellite but via a different provider.
Definitely a huge development in this space with lots more details to come.