Southwest Airlines will install Row 44's in-flight Internet service on all planes: The airline has been testing the Ku-band satellite-backed Internet service for several months. It will continue to test prices this year, and start to deploying next year on all its planes. Southwest has a fairly uniform fleet, making it possible to get just a couple of certifications in order to roll out.
Satellite access has been perceived as more expensive than ground-based service, both for gear and operating expenses, but Row 44 has consistently said that it has used a combination of off-the-shelf items, technology that's improved since Boeing's Connexion service days, and techniques to eke out the most efficient use of spectrum to make the service affordable.
Alaska Airlines has also tested Row 44's equipment, and earlier this year started an advertising campaign that included a statement that implied Wi-Fi access would be widely available, but the airline hasn't yet stated its plans publicly.
The competing provider, Aircell, just celebrates its one-year anniversary of the first equipped planes in the air yesterday; that was a pilot project with American Airlines. The commercial launch on Virgin America was last December, and Aircell has passed the 500 mark between Virgin, AirTran, Delta, and American. As many as 1,000 planes will have Aircell's Gogo service installed this year, and as many as another 1,000 next year.
With Southwest's commitment, it's likely that between 50 and 60 percent of all mainline (non-regional) aircraft routes will have Internet coverage by the end of 2010.