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Airline to roll out Wi-Fi in 2012

CHICAGO — After dabbling in Wi-Fi on a handful of transcontinental flights, United Continental Holdings Inc. has decided to wire more than 200 domestic aircraft for satellite-based broadband provided by LiveTV, starting in 2012.

United Continental said Tuesday that it had signed a letter of intent with LiveTV to offer in-flight Internet access on more than 200 Continental Boeing 737 and 757 jets already equipped for DirecTV.

The move is certain to be welcomed by some longtime business customers of United and Continental airlines, which stood by as rivals like Delta, Southwest and American airlines widely retrofitted aircraft to handle wireless Internet access.

United Continental is looking at rolling out Wi-Fi across the remainder of the more than 700 jets in its fleet, CEO Jeff Smisek told investors and analysts Tuesday.

The world’s largest carrier may contract with other service providers since LiveTV isn’t designed to operate on long-haul international flights, Smisek said.

That opens the door for Itasca, Ill.-based Aircell, which provides the in-flight Internet service that Chicago-based United currently offers on 14 aircraft. They operate all premium service flights between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Aircell earlier this month outlined plans to offer international service by 2015 as it supplements its widely used air-to-ground technology, which relies on signals beamed from cellular towers, with new satellite-based technology.

“There’s a lot of exciting technology out there,” Smisek told attendees of JPMorgan’s Aviation, Transportation and Defense Conference. “By being not on the bleeding edge of it, but having sat back as we have, we’re able to take advantage of improvements to it.”

Since United and Continental merged last October to form parent company United Continental Holdings Inc., Smisek’s team has been selecting onboard services to be rolled out fleetwide after the two carriers meld into a single entity to be called United Airlines later this year.


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