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JetBlue in-flight Wi-Fi coming Q1 2013, free at first

JetBlue plans to rollout in-flight Wi-Fi in the first quarter of 2013, with free baseline service for at least the first 30 planes in its fleet.

In addition, JetBlue says its satellite-based technology offers "exponentially more bandwidth" than the in-flight Wi-Fi of other airlines, according to a page on JetBlue's Website.

JetBlue spokeswoman Allison Croyle confirmed the launch details, including the airline's plans for free Wi-Fi, to PCWorld. The news was first reported in a memo leaked to The Verge.

Many U.S. airlines rely on Gogo for in-flight Internet. Gogo uses a series of cellular towers on the ground, which send a signal to the planes in the air. JetBlue will use satellite service in partnership with ViaSat, which claims that its Ka-band satellite system surpasses the speeds of other satellite systems as well.

Although Croyle could not confirm data speeds for JetBlue Wi-Fi, ViaSat's Exede Internet service promises 12 Mbps or more to each passenger. A source told The Verge that JetBlue's free service would be sufficient for "basic email and browsing," so passengers may still have to pay more if they want to stream movies or music in the air.

If JetBlue's claims of fast, reliable Wi-Fi hold up, the airline could become essential for passengers who need to stay connected in the air.

I've used Gogo several times, and it's never been able to handle streaming media in my experience. JetBlue's initial free offering should be a good proving ground for ViaSat's satellite service.

Even if you don't fly JetBlue, a successful launch of the Wi-Fi service would be good news; by the end of 2015, ViaSat plans to provide in-flight Internet to 370 planes, including those of other U.S. airlines.

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