Lucky you: As of January 2017, JetBlue became the first airline to provide free, high-speed Wi-Fi on all flights. The carrier’s signature “Fly-Fi” wireless internet provides coverage for passengers from departure to arrival gate — so you don’t have to wait until 10,000 feet to connect.
In addition to web browsing, Fly-Fi offers free movies and streaming content from Amazon Video, as well as access to messaging apps. JetBlue first introduced Fly-Fi in 2013 aboard a single aircraft and has since expanded it to the entire fleet.
How JetBlue Wi-Fi Works
JetBlue Wi-Fi works the same way your Wi-Fi connection at home or work does — except thousands of feet above the planet’s surface while traveling hundreds of miles per hour. So while the equipment is roughly the same, JetBlue airplanes have to work harder to connect to and maintain network signals while flying.
Some airplane Wi-Fi networks operate using an air-to-ground system, where an antenna on the bottom of the plane connects to existing cell phone towers on land. This cost-efficient — but slow — system works for planes flying over land, but not water.
Ku-band-based Wi-Fi service (named after a slice of the microwave range of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes light, radio waves, and X-rays) uses satellites rather than cell phone towers and works better for planes flying out of tower range or over water. A Ku-band antenna sits on top of the plane, and delivers speeds three to four times as fast as air-to-ground Wi-Fi. But because exterior Ku-band antennas create drag, they impact fuel usage, making the overall Wi-Fi cost more expensive than the air-to-ground alternative.
JetBlue, however, employs the newest and fastest Wi-Fi system available for planes: Ka-band service. Like Ku-band service, Ka-band is also named after a range of microwave frequencies and uses satellite rather than air-to-ground technology.
A Ka-band radio transmitter “applies 25 watts of power,” Alexis Madrigal, in a June 2017 article in The Atlantic, explains. “Your phone’s transmitter might have 1 or 2 watts of power.”
Ka-band Wi-Fi offers speeds up to seven times faster than air-to-ground Wi-Fi, and twice as fast as Ku-band. Queue Netflix up: It’s time to stream.