JetBlue launches free email, IM on Dec. 11 with Yahoo, RIM; no Internet access or attachments: JetBlue purchased a slender 1 MHz of spectrum in an FCC auction last June, and they plan to use it to provide their Wi-Fi laptop and handheld equipped passengers with free instant messaging and email service in partnership with Yahoo. Attachments won't be allowed. Owners of two models of BlackBerry with Wi-Fi will be able to use those for email as well, and one hopes that the security options that have made Research in Motion popular will be preserved. (You can read a summary of the auction in a post I wrote in June 2006 at the conclusion of bidding.)
JetBlue will launch the service using an Airbus A320 they named BetaBlue as it's also used to test entertainment offerings by its LiveTV subsidiary, which was technically the firm that bid on spectrum.
While AirCell was the bigger winner, buying 3 MHz over which they plan to launch broadband service (over 1 Mbps in each direction) with American Airlines and Virgin America next year, JetBlue's 1 MHz is nothing to sneeze at. It just can't handle Web surfing. An onboard media server with cached sites and streaming video could be a nice complement.
Update: The New York Times has some additional information, with the reporter having flown on a test flight. She notes that the service had handoff problems among ground stations (which she calls cell sites; not technically incorrect, but less descriptive), and that the handoff factor was one reason JetBlue wasn't going to charge initially. (Those with long memories will remember JetDirect, a short-lived service on airlines like United that used Tenzing's system to proxy mail through an onboard service, using AirFone's narrowband service for backhaul. The proxy allowed discontinuity in service. Tenzing merged into OnAir, which has focused on satellite access, and may launch its first equipped aircraft by spring 2008 after nearly three years of delays from their original plans.)
It's worth noting that the restriction in using Yahoo's mail service means that corporate networks that require virtual private network (VPN) connections to gain access won't be supported, and companies and agencies that require secure email are out of luck. This systems includes no cell aspects, so handhelds and smartphones without Wi-Fi have no chance of working.
Flight 641 leaves JFK on Tuesday at 8 am, but that's the only scheduled flight for that particular aircraft. Depending on feedback, JetBlue "hopes" to install the system on its whole fleet.