In a Journal article about the pitfalls of using cell phones during flights--the social problems, not technical ones--the reporter slips in some interesting news at the end: Nearly a year ago, I wrote "Would You Fly in Chattering Class?" for the Economist about the perils and potential for in-flight voice and data calling. At that time, it seemed a few months before an airline would launch such a service. It's now still a few months away, but apparently getting closer. There are a lot of concerns that people placing calls during flights would completely irritate others. Or, as former OnAir CEO George Cooper--a delightful man to interview--told the Journal, "passengers typically indicated they wanted to be able to make cellphone calls during flights 'but didn't want to sit next to anybody using one.'"
In this Journal article, which is short on numbers despite many published surveys on the topic, the reporter notes at the end a few fascinating facts, not confirmed by any of the subjects. First, Southwest has budgeted $100m for in-flight email and Internet access. They're talking to vendors now, including satellite operators. I don't believe satellite-based communications can compete with AirCell's terrestrial network, but it's possible that the economics have shifted enough to make that happen.
The second bit of news is related to that issue: Row 44 is apparently working with Alaska Airlines to test satellite-based Internet access. In a conversation some weeks ago with Row 44, they gave some detail about their claims of supporting tens of megabits per second downstream from a Ku-band satellite, the same satellite type used by Connexion.
Row 44 says their lease terms are better and their technology ekes every bit from the connection. John Guidon, Row 44's CEO, told me in May that their antenna specification is "vastly different from anybody else's specification including Connexion's original specification." As such their system has "the desirable characteristics of high bandwidth without extraordinary cost."
Row 44 says that they'll be competitive with AirCell--even bettering them by offering worldwide service with a single set of gear. The next several months should be quite interesting as companies pile into the domestic, trans-Atlantic, and European markets.