JetBlue to Test Wireless Email/IM

JetBlue, Technology

Apparently my admission that I was having trouble coming up with things to write yesterday was a blessing. Today, the only 07_12_06 b6wifithing causing me trouble was choosing which topic to write about. A phone call yesterday evening with JetBlue spokesperson Alison Eshelman about their new upcoming wi-fi service made my choice much easier. Bloggers don’t always have easy access to PR teams at airlines, but JetBlue has always made it easy.

Anyway, it was leaked yesterday that JetBlue would begin testing free wi-fi onboard a single plane beginning with flight 641 from JFK to SFO this Tuesday. Apparently, they weren’t going to announce it until Tuesday, but word got out (see Engadget for tech details) and now they’re willing to talk. Does that mean you’ll be able to read your daily Cranky at 36,000 feet? Well, maybe. If you subscribe with your Yahoo Mail account. Let’s get into some more of the details.

Thanks to LiveTV (which JetBlue owns), Yahoo, and RIM (maker of BlackBerries), JetBlue has been able to put together a test program for onboard wi-fi. If you bring your laptop and you have wi-fi, you can use this service for free, BUT you can only access Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Messenger. Oh. That’s not so cool. If you have a BlackBerry with wi-fi (8820 or Curve 8320), you can use the email and BlackBerry Messenger functions so you’re not just limited to Yahoo. But, they say you won’t be able to surf the web or open attachments regardless of the device you use.

That deflates a lot of the excitement, huh? But I think I understand why it has to be that way. I mean, this can’t be cheap if you have to do it alone, but both Yahoo and RIM stepped up to make it happen. And that’s probably why JetBlue can offer it for free to customers. Would I rather drop some cash for robust internet access on a long haul flight? Absolutely. But is this better than anything you can get on any other airline right now? Well, yeah.

The good news is that I’m told by Ms Eshelman that while there is an exclusive agreement with Yahoo and RIM right now, it only lasts for a few months. They plan on soliciting feedback from customers to figure out which additional features would be of most interest in the future. So how can you try this out? Buy a ticket on flight 641 next Tuesday. Otherwise, it’s luck of the draw, and your chances are pretty slim of actually getting onboard.

As I mentioned above, the test is on only one airplane right now. The plane, N651JB, was delivered in January of this year as “I’m Having a Blue Moment,” but it will now be reborn as “BetaBlue.” Apparently, this aircraft will be the testbed for all their future tech testing onboard. In other words, you want to be on this plane.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to find out if you’re on this plane until you show up at the airport. I know they can’t tell you very far in advance how a plane will be routed, but it would be nice if you could find out before you leave your home for the airport. They don’t have plans to do that, so you’ll just have to enjoy the surprise. They did tell me that they will try to keep the plane on long haul routes so that customers can get the most benefit. Oh, and the coverage is roughly similar to what you get with LiveTV. It uses 114 cellular towers across the country, so only when the plane is overwater or in foreign airspace is it unlikely to work.

As for future installation on the rest of the fleet, there are no solid plans. If this goes well, they’ll look at expanding it. But there aren’t any guarantees at this point.

So will we be able to start surfing the web with full functionality onboard anytime soon? No way. They just don’t have the bandwidth to allow people to even open attachments let alone stream video. They’re just focusing on email and IM, but they’re going to be experimenting with anything else they can make work at the request of customers.

Practically, this isn’t a big deal for me, because I don’t know how long my Yahoo Mail would keep me entertained. That being said, it’s an important step. This is the first time we’ve seen wi-fi on an airplane, and that should be cause for celebration. So, nice step, JetBlue. I look forward to seeing more robust options evolve over time.

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9 comments on “JetBlue to Test Wireless Email/IM

  1. Hey Cranky,

    This idea makes me really cranky! :) The airplane is the only place I can get peace and quiet and a little time to catch up…if they can track me down on my crackberry I’m doomed!!!

    And I rue the day when they will have cell phone service…

    BRog

  2. Cool idea, I’m sure this will be expanded on by Jetblue or other airlines sometime in the future. It will be awesome…unless Skype gets working or people use the talk function in IM. I will punch the person sitting next to me when the last oasis of cellular-free disappears.

  3. Sorry Cranky, I’m with BRog! It’s not enough you have to put up with screaming kids whose parents sit by like they are on ‘ludes or the imbicile with the MP3 player blasting so loud in the earphones it can be heard 3 rows away. More & more I’ve been not using the airlines and going private… if you can get a group of 6 it’s not much more than first class.

  4. I saw this plane as I was taxiing to the runway at SFO yesterday. I didn’t notice the “beta blue” name, but the enormous Blackberry and Yahoo labels near the front of the aircraft were easily visible.

  5. omg I thought that all airplane have wireless internet… I going to Dominican republic on February 5 2009 and if it is true oversea it no Internet I will not going to used it…

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