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Finally! Onboard and Online with JetBlue's New Fast and Free 'Fly-Fi' WiFi Network

December 11, 2013 at 5:36 PM | by | Comments (0)

[Update: To view what routes will have Fly-Fi each day, check the frequently updated list on JetBlue's blog]

December, 2007: JetBlue christens an Airbus A320 "BetaBlue" and becomes the first airline to offer in-flight WiFi, even if it is extremely limited and quickly outdated.

December, 2013: JetBlue again launches an Airbus A320 with in-flight WiFi, but this time the focus is on freedom and a tech-positive future. The system is called Fly-Fi and it promises to do everything other in-flight networks cannot, and still go beyond. It is the Survivor of in-flight WiFi networks, designed to "Outwit Outplay Outlast."

It was only this morning that Fly-Fi saw its first official flight, and we were onboard. Naturally we tried our very best to break the network or at least throttle it, but to no avail; Fly-Fi is a beast of technology, an in-flight WiFi network passengers can finally rely on, and likely even come to love.

Fly-Fi is FAST

When Fly-Fi was originally announced, JetBlue CEO Dave Barger promised that it would be "designed for the 21st century, not just for today's personal connectivity needs, but with the bandwidth to expand to meet tomorrow's needs as well."

Speedtests proved that the WiFi remained fast, registering between 12-28 Mbps, even with over 60 devices connected and pushing activities like Netflix Instant, Google Video Hangouts, Ustream live streaming, and Skype calls. For the layman, that's more Mbps than we get at home and absolutely more than typically found with airport WiFi networks. Pre-launch flights between JFK and Austin even saw 90 devices happily logged on. Now consider that the largest plane JetBlue flies is an A321 with 190 seats, and it's clear that the chances of accessing an unstressed network are high.

While leaving the plane after this morning's flight, the media in attendance joked that it would be better to stay onboard and use the fast network than to chance doing work over any other connection.

Fly-Fi is FREE*

Unbelievably, JetBlue is offering their Fly-Fi for free with a couple caveats. First, it will be free for at least the first six months. Second, if you want to pay $0, you're welcome to connect to "Simply Surf" for the duration of the flight. If you're okay with paying $9 an hour, you'll be connecting to Fly-Fi+ and receiving much more bandwidth from the satellite. Fly-Fi+ is ideal for data-heavy gaming, large file transfers and seamless video streaming.

We were able to easily stretch the "Simply Surf" free WiFi to handle all our normal internet needs, social media, and the posting of Instagram Videos. Also accomplished on free WiFi? Skype calls and FaceTime! Meanwhile, paying the $9 an hour enabled us to watch Mad Men on Netflix Instant as if we were at home, but actually with slightly faster load time. Incredible.

Fly-Fi is basically magic

Check out that coverage map below. It is impressive, and that's all thanks to a real, Ka-band satellite floating around in space, launched by ViaSat from Kazakhstan in 2011. Satellite WiFi essentially means coverage is comprehensive and continuous, unlike with systems based on physical antennas constructed on the ground, around the country.

This is also tops for passengers headed down to Mexico or the Caribbean, who will be connected for most of the flight. Squeeze that bandwidth for all its worth, before you're wrestling with island WiFi!

You can use Fly-Fi right now

JetBlue is taking Fly-Fi fleet-wide, as soon as possible. At the moment, there are only four aircraft (like today's, N804JB) with the new tech, but all that will quickly change as JetBlue cycles their planes through installation in Orlando. For now, JetBlue is updating their blog daily with the day's Fly-Fi-equipped routes.

JetBlue flies Airbus A320s, Airbus A321s, and Embraer E190s, all of which will be online by 2015. Late 2014 is the fleet-wide Fly-Fi date for the A320s and A321s, but you can bet that, by summer vacation next year, you'll be booking a JetBlue flight with a great chance of getting connected in the air.

Fly-Fi is only going to get better

At this moment, there's one satellite orbiting above: ViaSat-1. Come 2016, it'll be joined by a second, aptly named "ViaSat-2." As you can imagine, this only means a future elevated by the improvements brought by a few years of tech advancements.

As major as Fly-Fi is, it's only one of several major upgrades JetBlue is making to their fleet over the next couple years. Other additions include at-seat power ports, an updated economy class, and those sweet new premium Mint seats on transcontinental flights. We must admit to admiring JetBlue for their work in such a dynamic industry as commercial aviation, as they've managed to go from the cute and cool budget carrier to a serious power with only positive plans.

We flew today as a guest of JetBlue to put Fly-Fi through the paces, but all opinions and photos are completely our own.

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]

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