Alaska Airlines chooses Row 44 for in-flight broadband test, Wall Street Journal reports: Row 44 uses Ku-band satellite access, just like the defunct Connexion by Boeing, but told me in an interview several weeks ago that their antenna is much smaller and lighter, their on-board systems are more compact, and they've eked out every last bit of bandwidth possible with the band they're using. As I've written before, Connexion by Boeing was stalled by 9/11 and the air industry downturn, and thus deployed technology that was previous generation by the time it hit planes. Installation cost and time were large.
By contrast, Row 44 expects a relatively quick installation process within normal maintenance windows, much like AirCell, which is building a domestic air-to-ground broadband service. Row 44 can cover Alaska's large number of over-water flights to Alaska, Hawaii, and Mexico, where AirCell won't be able to even when they receive expected approval from Canada, Mexico, and Caribbean nations for their system. Row 44 planes extensive entertainment offerings down the road, too.
Alaska's test will come in the spring, and if successful, they'll roll service out to 114 aircraft by the end of 2009. No pricing has been set. AirCell believes its airlines will charge about $10 for a session. Row 44's head said that the firm might set up a fleetwide single price model--pay a few dollars for access on all Alaska flights for a day--or even a monthly subscription model.
If there's any sign that this generation of in-flight broadband is practical, it's the sheer number of companies in the space: OnAir, Aeromobile, AirCell, Row 44, Panasonic, and potentially one or two others in Europe. None of these firms is promising the moon. All are looking for long-term gains, not short-term wins at great expense.
And budget airlines are being quite aggressive about the service, too. RyanAir made the first big fleet-wide commitment, with the first planes coming online soon. Southwest is apparently ready to make a commitment, too, pending further testing.