June 05, 2006
JetBlue, AirCell close to making it happen.
Web surfing may soon become as common as boredom on airline flights.
JetBlue Airways and AirCell, a Colorado-based technology firm, are betting on it after the two won air-to-ground spectrum licenses in an auction concluded Friday by the Federal Commissions Commission (FCC).
After almost a month of bidding in the auction, JetBlue won 1 MHz of spectrum for $7 million while AirCell of Louisville, Colo., took home 3 MHz for $31.3 million.
Verizon's Airfone currently operates in the spectrum offering air-to-ground telephone service. Airfone dropped out the bidding early and must vacate the spectrum within two years.
JetBlue declined to comment on its winning bid, but AirCell issued a statement Monday morning calling for commercial deployment by as early as next year.
"AirCell has more patents and experience applying advanced wireless technology in the airborne environment than any organization in the world," Jack Blumenstein, president and CEO of AirCell, said in the statement.
AirCell said its wireless broadband service will allow airline passengers to use their laptops and PDAs in the same manner they use them on the ground.
Voice service, however, remains in doubt.
The FCC's ban on the use of airborne wireless telephones, which is intended to help prevent interference with terrestrial wireless systems, remains in effect.
Two years ago, the FCC stirred up a minor controversy when it proposed both broadband service and individual cell phone use on U.S. commercial flights.
In addition, the FCC noted, the use of electronic equipment on airlines remains subject to the Federal Aviation Administration's and aircraft operators' rules and practices.
"As we move forward and complete the official licensing process, AirCell will be accelerating its discussions with a number of airlines ... for the introduction of broadband services," Blumenstein said.
According to Blumenstein, the AirCell network will initially cover the continental U.S. with expansion plans to cover Canada, New Mexico and the Caribbean.
"Because the system will use commercially available technology and a direct air-to-ground link, its installation and operating costs will be very affordable, enabling U.S. airlines to safely provide the connectivity their passengers are demanding," AirCell said in its statement.