Aircraft Interiors: Alaska and Southwest to decide soon, says Row 44
“We expect Alaska and Southwest Airlines to make a decision during this quarter,” Row 44 president Gregg Fialcowitz said here today. California-based Row 44 began trials of its Ku-band satellite passenger broadband system with the two carriers earlier this year.
“We also expect to be able to make an announcement in the near future about an agreement with a customer operating on the North Atlantic and in Europe,” he confided. “In anticipation of that, we plan to extend our coverage to those regions this summer, with first aircraft operations there expected to start in the third quarter of the year.”
The Row 44 equipment fit, which includes a new-generation antenna from AeroSat, is installed in one Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 and four Southwest 737s. “Between them they have totalled more than 800 flights with our system operational,” said Fialcowitz. “Both airlines were focused originally on seeing if the system worked, and consequently offered it free of charge to passengers. But now they can see that it delivers and are planning to look at charging soon to establish appropriate pricing.”
The Row 44 president reported an average passenger take-up rate of more than 36 per cent across the two airlines, with peaks of more than 80 per cent on some flights. Wireless laptops are proving to be the most popular access device. “Even for a free service, these numbers are staggering,” commented Fialcowitz. “Our business plan is built on single-figure take-up rates, so we’re very encouraged.”
Row 44 delivers a typical 4Mbit/sec to the seat, with 0.5Mbit/sec in the opposite direction. “Surveys show that passengers perceive the level of service as equal or superior to what they get on the ground in WiFi hotspots and home offices. They are streaming video, surfing the Web, accessing corporate networks and using the Slingbox remote TV access application.”
Fialcowitz reported that two weeks ago the company received temporary authorisation from the US Federal Communication Commission to offer its service in North America. “Now we have to repeat our interference testing and submit full results to the FCC,” he said. “We feel confident that we will pass this scrutiny and be awarded a full licence to operate in the USA.”
The company has already secured several licences in other territories in anticipation of future service roll-outs beyond the USA, Fialcowitz said.