Row 44 loses one of its two announced customers: Alaska Airlines apparently tired of waiting for Row 44 to raise the capital necessary to start building out its satellite-backed service, and has chosen to use Aircell. This is a blow for Row 44, which Southwest has picked, but for which we still have no details about financing: will Southwest back the installation, or Row 44 raise private capital? What will Southwest charge for service?
Row 44 has only a couple of non-announced airlines to pitch to in the US, and it's likely that airlines that haven't committed aren't planning to until there's more proof that Internet service produces happier customers who pay more for flights--as well as reasonable revenue from the service.
Alaska will put service on 737-800 long-haul planes first, then roll out fleetwide. The press release is fairly frank in stating why the airline switched: "Their reliable, lower-cost equipment can be installed quickly, allowing Alaska Airlines to introduce Gogo service to our customers as soon as possible."
(You can read my full report on this, including an interview with Alaska's VP in charge of this area, over at Publicola, a Northwest news and culture site.)
I had written in the past that Alaska's choice of Row 44 made sense because of the large number of over-sea routes the airline flies to Alaska and Mexico. However, Aircell will have service operating in Canada as a partner to a license winner at some point (this year?).
That, combined with pointing some antennas at over the ocean, might allow reasonably continuous coverage between continental US routes and Alaska. Mexico is another story, but Aircell hopes to have the same deal Verizon Airfone had in Mexico and the Caribbean to allow use of the same spectrum for which it has licenses in the US.
Alaska said in the press release, "To ensure the service is available to the airline's namesake state, Aircell will expand its network to provide Gogo Inflight Internet service on flights to, from and between key destinations in the state of Alaska."
Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet is on over 700 planes at present. I expect it'll hit about 1,500 planes this year, although the pace of installation could speed up if airlines are happy about uptake and revenue.