Amazon, Jet Blue partner to launch in-flight streaming via Fly-Fi service

JetBlue and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) are teaming up to significantly boost content offerings on the airline's in-flight broadband service, dubbed Fly-Fi. Amazon Instant Video will be available this year on the service for passengers to rent or buy, and then stream, videos during their trip; Prime Instant Video subscribers will be able to stream movies and TV series from the service.

"We want to provide the best digital video experience to our customers and we're excited that, with JetBlue, we will raise the bar in airline entertainment," said Amazon's Michael Paull, VP of Digital Video, in a release. "We're thrilled that Fly-Fi technology will give Prime members and customers unlimited, on-demand access to the full catalog of titles from Amazon's digital video library while they're in the sky--without the need to rush to download one more episode or movie before taking off, we're helping make airline travel more enjoyable."

JetBlue launched Fly-Fi in late 2013. The airline will use the satellite broadband service--provided by ViaSat--to offer streaming-friendly capacity to passengers.

Current in-flight, air-to-ground Wi-Fi services on many airlines do not typically allow video streaming due to the bandwidth required. For example, Southwest Airlines last year began offering satellite-based Wi-Fi service for a fee, thanks to a partnership with Row 44, along with the ability for passengers to view 15 Dish channels on their personal mobile devices--but doesn't permit streaming.

But that is beginning to change. A ViaSat spokesperson told FierceOnlineVideo that while limited bandwidth may be the case with air-to-ground in-flight Wi-Fi services, which deliver aggregated bandwidth to the aircraft, its satellite technology makes it possible to offer "passenger-level SLAs regardless of how many devices are connected on the plane, or how many Exede In The Air-equipped aircraft are on the satellite network." ViaSat is delivering satellite broadband services not just to JetBlue but also United, and soon to El Al.

A JetBlue spokesperson told FierceOnlineVideo that Fly-Fi is now available on all of its Airbus A320 aircraft and 80 percent of its Airbus A321 aircraft. "Fly-Fi offers a range of 12-20 Mbps to the individual device. By comparison our competitors offer about 6 Mpbs to the entire plane," the spokesperson said.

Amazon streaming services will roll out "later this year," the company said, noting that the service will be available in 2016 on its smaller Embraer E190 aircraft.

The Fly-Fi service is free, JetBlue said. But in a world where charging for standard in-flight Wi-Fi is routine for many airlines, whether it will stay free is up in the air. A Reuters story noted that "Amazon might pay JetBlue to help keep the airline's Wi-Fi free so that passengers can buy from the retailer."

Amazon's team-up with JetBlue signals a shift in the availability of streaming services on aircraft that until now was only talked about. Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) reportedly is in talks with in-flight content provider Global Eagle to get its service aboard aircraft.

For more:
- see the release
- Reuters via Re/code has this story

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Updated May 6 with statement & details on satellite broadband service from ViaSat.