Beta blues – Jet Blue’s almost-internet in the sky

On the second half of my march home from Raleigh I was on a JetBlue Airbus between New York City and Boston that was equipped with JetBlue’s new internet service, BetaBlue. Basically it’s a 802.11b/g wifi node which is accessible once the plane hits 10,000 feet. One can connect to it via notebook or wifi smartphone (certain Blackberries for example). Once connected there are two services – Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Messenger. This modern magic is performed with some 800Mhz spectrum, a method for switching rapidly between cell towers on the ground, and custom versions of the Yahoo apps. If you get in the air without a Yahoo account you’re SOL, though account opening is coming.

I had my X61 ThinkPad tablet snoozing in suspend mode, so as soon as the steward said it was cool for electronic dee-vices, I had Access Connections hunting for a wireless node … and there they were; two of them. I connected, opened Firefox, and was hit with the usual terms and conditions blah blah.

54 mb of inflight goodness at 97% signal – what could be better than internet in the air?

Well, given the name “beta” and given the price, “Free” I won’t rant about this uselessness. The service at present only does two things – access Yahoo mail, and Yahoo instant messaging. Okay. I don’t use my Yahoo mail account and I don’t use Yahoo’s messaging directly (I aggregate my account with Trillian), so there wasn’t going to be any inflight air blogging that night.

And, wouldn’t you know it, neither mail nor messenger worked in the scant 15 minutes I had at the top of the Kennedy-Logan parabola somewhere over Long Island Sound. I’m patient – I’ve only had full Internet above 30,000 feet once, and that was a Boeing Connexion service on JAL from Tokyo to Boston. If I recall that connection cost me some $20 bucks but was a good thing, albeit a bit vexing to be in 100% uptime connectivity with the office, thus ruining one of the last bastions of interruption free meditation in modern corporate life – business class.

Engadget reviewed last month after the press flight.

“Ultimately the utility of this service comes down to one’s own particular mindset, it would seem: those folks who just want to stay connected at any cost will find this to be a great perk that isn’t available anywhere else, while anyone expecting an open pipe or even broadband speeds is likely to be severely disappointed. When and if JetBlue begins adding more local multimedia content and opening up its network to other service providers, however, BetaBlue could eventually force other domestic carriers to finally get with the times and stop ruining our otherwise ubiquitous connections to the Grid.”

JetBlue is predicting better stuff:

"Customers on BetaBlue will not be able to access the Internet. This is not an

Internet-surfing connection.

We wanted to provide a product that everyone can use and at a great price: FREE.

BetaBlue’s email and instant messaging services are pioneering service

enhancements, and we will continue to listen to what our Customers want as we test

the aircraft’s current offerings. BetaBlue is our trial aircraft for new connectivity

services available in-flight. Stay tuned for future enhancements!”

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.