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January 15, 2013

United’s High-Speed Satellite WiFi Will Let Customers Choose Price Based On Speed

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United Airlines Boeing 747-400. (Photo by United)

With new technology and a unique pricing scheme, United Airlines just might alleviate two of the most common complaints about in-flight WiFi: It’s expensive and sometimes it’s slow.

United announced Tuesday that it has installed Panasonic Avionics Ku-band satellite WiFi aboard three of its planes—one Boeing 747-400 used for overseas routes and two Airbus A319s flying domestic service—and plans to outfit 300 more by year’s end.

Unlike the more commonly used air-to-ground systems used on some United planes (and most other WiFi-equipped US legacy carriers), the new Ku-band satellite system is designed to allow for broadband-like connection speeds. The added bandwidth also allows for higher user capacity, which means flights on which many passengers are online will be less likely to grind to a halt as they sometimes do with air-to-ground systems.

United will also use that added bandwidth to offer passengers a choice of pricing tiers based on how fast they want to surf, a new concept in in-flight WiFi. The Standard speed will be priced roughly the same as current tech, between $3.99 and $14.99 per flight, depending on scheduled flight time. Accelerated service will be “faster than Standard” and will cost $5.99 to $19.99. United did not offer any numbers about exactly how fast each service would run.

The announcement comes just days after in-flight WiFi provider Gogo said American Airlines would be installing a hybrid satellite/air-to-ground system on its new Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 jets. JetBlue also plans to begin testing Ka-band satellite WiFi beginning in the coming months.



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