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APEX Insight: Virgin America passengers will notice faster video streaming and connectivity throughout their flight this fall with a broadband boost and expanded network through ViaSat’s Exede In The Air.

Got plans to travel with Virgin America in September? Take advantage of the airline’s new partnership with ViaSat to offer passengers uninterrupted music and video play on their personal phones and tablets, an experience they’re familiar with on the ground, but that’s not as easy to simulate 35,000 feet in the atmosphere.

With ViaSat’s Exede In the Air, which delivers 140 gigabits per second, passengers will see broadband speeds eight to 10 times faster than conventional in-flight Wi-Fi. This service, also available on JetBlue, United Airlines’ Boeing 737 fleet and coming soon to El Al, utilizes ViaSat-1, the highest capacity Ka-band satellite, enabling even the most rigorous browsing, streaming, shopping and downloading to occur simultaneously on passengers’ personal electronic devices while traveling by air. The robust connectivity also allows Virgin America to bring 18 channels of live Dish Network television on Red Beta, the airline’s Android-based in-flight entertainment system.

Don Buchman, vice-president and general manager, Commercial Mobility Business at ViaSat explains: “Live television will be coming over the same satellite as the data connection and it would be made available to the passenger at their seatback devices on Virgin.” For airlines, this means no longer having to choose between offering data or live TV; passengers can have both.

Unique to the connectivity service that will be installed on the 10 new Airbus A320 deliveries – the first of which is scheduled to fly on domestic routes starting September – is the single hybrid antenna that can operate in both Ku- and Ka-band satellite networks. 

“We’re looking forward to getting more passengers exposed to the new product that we’re hoping will bring a little more quality to their journey.” – Don Buchman, ViaSat

As Buchman explains, if an aircraft with only a Ku-antenna flies from San Francisco to Honolulu and there’s only Ku coverage, all other US destinationsi that same aircraft flies to would be limited to a Ku service on board. “By putting on our hybrid antenna, that aircraft, based on its destination, will take the best available network that’s in its flightpath. So if it’s going from San Francisco to Miami it’s going to have access to the fantastic ViaSat-1 coverage and service quality.” And during this beta rollout of the ViaSat product, passengers will be able to experience Ka-band power for free, as Virgin America won’t be introducing Internet fees until next year.

Conversation around Ka and Ku services within the industry has focused on comparing the two. But ViaSat envisions the two as complimentary, similar to the way the hybrid satellite LTE and 3G services compliment each other in the cell phone industry.

“When I have LTE coverage I use it, which is a faster, more economical on data. When I don’t have it, my phone will fall back to 3G and that’s very similar to Ka and Ku,” Buchman said.

But talk of Ku or Ka is irrelevant to the average passenger. “What matters is the experience you can deliver,” said Meherwan Polad, director, Business Development for Exede Mobility Services, ViaSat, at the Global Connected Aircraft Summit earlier this year. “Ku versus Ka doesn’t matter.” The airlines agree. “To a customer, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s one system or another – Ka or Ku – it matters that the system is working,” said Azman Ahmad, general manger, Products Management of Saudia Airlines, on another panel.

And ViaSat is looking forward to introducing passengers to their award-winning connectivity: “We’re looking forward to getting more passengers exposed to the new product that we’re hoping will bring a little more quality to their journey,” Buchman said.

Caroline is managing editor at APEX Media.