United Announces Onboard Wifi, But It’s Hardly a Ringing Endorsement

Earlier this week, United announced that it will finally put wifi onboard about 200 of its airplanes. You would think that this would finally resolve the wifi question at the new world’s largest airline, but it doesn’t. I imagine this was just a great deal that they couldn’t pass up.

United's Wifi Transition

The announcement said that United had signed a letter of intent with LiveTV to put wifi onboard more than 200 Continental airplanes. This deal is for Ka band satellite, the super fancy, cheap, and fast version of satellite internet that JetBlue said it would install last year, though it’s not yet operational anywhere. In the past, neither United nor Continental had seen it worthwhile to put internet onboard except on United’s tiny fleet of p.s. airplanes that fly between JFK and both LA and San Francisco. So what’s changed?

Continental signed up long ago to put LiveTV on most of its domestic fleet. There are already 165 airplanes with this onboard and another 53 scheduled to get it. That means a total of 218 airplanes, or the “more than 200″ that will get wifi per the announcement. I assume every airplane with LiveTV will end up with wifi as part of this deal.

So has United seen the light and decided that, like Delta, it thinks wifi is important for the future? I’m not so sure. One of the big questions surrounding this merger is what will happen to the onboard product on the domestic fleet. It seems that the TVs on the Continental fleet are safe for now, but did LiveTV have to pony up to make that happen? While JetBlue has signed up for this internet offering already (as it should since it owns LiveTV), it’s not operational anywhere yet. But LiveTV is high on this, and it was also probably quite concerned about the possibility of losing its TV contract with the new United.

So did LiveTV give United a sweetheart deal on internet to a) keep its TVs onboard and b) help build the buzz around the internet offering? It seems quite possible to me. And that’s probably a smart business move on LiveTV’s part. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that United is sold on internet. If it was, I imagine that we would have seen a complete announcement about the domestic fleet and not just a partial one.

What does this mean for the future of entertainment on United? It does seem clear that TV is going to stay for now, but whether it will be expanded or not is entirely unclear. The incompleteness of this announcement is why I figure that LiveTV made United and offer it couldn’t refuse. And since this is an LOI, there’s no guarantee that even this will happen. Hopefully the coming months will bring us more on the direction that United is going to take.


18 Responses to United Announces Onboard Wifi, But It’s Hardly a Ringing Endorsement

  1. What’s next Wifi in portable toilets? Wifi is over hyped and the world needs to chill down from thinking they must be connected to it 24/7.

    So for me, Wifi on an airplane means nothing and now it’s gotten to a point that everything thinks they must have it because the other guy does.

    • Yea, watching some awful inflight movie or staring that the patterns of the seat in front of you is way better than having the entire world at your fingertips for the duration of a six hour flight. Lets all just fear change instead

    • Koos Patat says:

      If you’re flying for business and spend 6 hours on a flight unable to get work done because the airline is in the stone age, it gets really frustrating. If I could log onto my client’s network and get work done for even half the time I am sitting on airplanes, the rest of my week would be so much easier and in total way more productive.

  2. Sean says:

    Hopefully for LiveTV the, Ka band satellite launch goes well later this year…

  3. I feel that Wi-Fi is the future of on board entertainment. Why have static systems that are built into seat backs when you can have the dynamic internet? When speeds get better, people can watch whatever movies they want, chat, work on email, etc.

    • Well that was the argument for TVs in seatbacks too.. Although I’m not sure its fast enough for watching streaming movies.. That just seems like asking alot.

    • Frank says:

      Wifi usuage is MINIMAL onboard the flights I work. Yeah, the flying public demands and wants the newest technology, but seldom wants to “pay for it”.

  4. Sanjeev M says:

    Love the graphic, Cranky!

    Personally, I would rather have power outlets than Wifi though.

  5. Don says:

    I think United and JetBlue has hit the nail on the head with this “new” Internet service provider. If it works over the water than land then others will follow. And while power ports are nice at every seat that can easily be done at any airport anywhere. I see it all the time (even when I don’t fly JetBlue). And I don’t fly them a lot cause they don’t go everywhere.

    Until this new service comes I’ll just enjoy my kindle that accompanies me on every flight.

    • matt weber says:

      The Ka band Service is going to be strictly domestic. Ka Does offer a lot more bandwidth than ground based systems can provide,but not a lot more than Ku can provide (Row 44).

      Of course the whole thing could quite literally go up in smoke. The satellite to provide the Ka Band Service has NOT been launched yet! So it still has to be launched, achieve operational orbit, and actually work in orbit. While those are all admittedly high probability events, this is not done yet.

  6. james says:

    Of course I’m all for it. But from what I’ve read (either here or other sources) the problem is capacity. I’d rather have no WiFi offered than a crummy slow connection that’s free or worse at small charge

    Plus many places offer free WiFi – but between ads, restrictions, and speed it’s often worthless to me. (For example Denver airport as of late.)

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but a plane full of laptops streaming Netflix movies and Hulu, while others perform heavy downloads will cause more frustration than it’s worth…

    +1 for power outlets. Wifi is also a battery drainer — which may encourage people to use it sparingly…

  7. Todd says:

    A bit off topic, but related to CO/UA…Seems fellow Star Alliance member Egypt Air has removed Israel completely from the airline’s map.
    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/egypt-air-wipes-israel-off-the-map/

    • I didn’t know they flew between CAI and TLV, I only thought is was El Al and Air Sinai who have been flying the route for decades. Maybe MS couldn’t compete?

      • Todd says:

        The MS flights have operated for years, and continue to do so. The oddity is that TLV has been removed from the route-map on the MS website.

        • MS must only do charter service which is why I didn’t know they flew it. Their web page timetable doesn’t show TLV and neither do any online booking site that I can see. Or they discontinued service which is why is doesn’t show up anywhere.

          • Todd says:

            Egypt Air owns Air Sinai. That’s like saying American doesn’t have service to a given city because they only have American Eagle flights. The name Air Sinai is used for political purposes and for Islamic sensibilities. It is still Egypt Air by a different name.

  8. Pingback: United Becomes the First US Airline to Announce Wifi Over the Water - >> The Cranky Flier

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