SpaceX signed the first airline customer for its Starlink satellite service. JSX will offer in-flight WiFi powered by the low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation, with the first plane expected to be equipped later this year.
Our Customers have repeatedly asked us when we would offer inflight Wi-Fi, and we’ve said that we’ll do it when we find the best product in the world. Today, I’m proud to say, we’ve found it and the wait for Wi-Fi on JSX is nearly over.– JSX CEO Alex Wilcox
The carrier placed an order to outfit up to 100 aircraft with the system. It expects the first flight to occur later this year.
JSX intends to offer on-board WiFi free to all passengers. he service will not require a portal or any login process. Passengers will simply pick the network and go.
“Starlink’s technology will change the way JSX Customers access and enjoy the Internet while inflight,” explains JSX CEO Alex Wilcox. The service, he says, is “another example of how our forward-thinking model of flying delivers the most simple, joyful, and seamless air travel experience available in the skies.”
“High-speed, low-latency internet is critical in our modern age, and during air travel is no exception,” said SpaceX Vice President of Starlink Commercial Sales Jonathan Hofeller. “With Starlink, we’re able to provide an internet experience similar to or better than what passengers experience at home. We are creating a future that when all customers walk on to the plane, the internet just works – no hassles, no logins. By being the first air carrier to adopt Starlink, JSX is setting this new standard for air travel.”
JSX expects to work closely with Starlink on the testing and certification of the antenna and terminal hardware.
Successful development of an electronically steered, phased array antenna (ESA) for commercial aircraft has been a major challenge for companies over the past decade. Hofeller stated at the Satellite 2022 conference last month that the company was “already on airplanes. We are testing the antenna and working towards certification.”
Hoffler also acknowledged the limitations of the Starlink constellation. One significant shortcoming remains the lack of inter-satellite links operational at scale. While that is on the horizon, the lack of those links limits the useful geographic reach of the service today.
Fortunately for JSX and SpaceX, the route map does not leave the USA nor cross bodies of water. That sort of regional coverage is something Starlink should be able to handle.
The smaller aircraft JSX operates – with just 35 seats on board – should also help the companies scale up with the deployment. Putting too many users, and the associated demand, on to the network too quickly could present congestion problems or affect bandwidth available to terrestrial users in the same areas.
It is also worth noting that this is not the first time JSX has selected an unproven provider for its in-flight internet service. In January 2019 the company announced a deal with SmartSky to fit the fleet. That project slipped more than expected as SmartSky worked through its network deployment issues, though at least one aircraft did have the SmartSky hardware installed.
By last November, when SmartSky was finally ready to deliver services to commercial aircraft, JSX was no longer fully committed to the product. Now we know that deal was well and truly dead. Even with the hardware certifications in hand.
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