DN - Defence Notes

WAEA: Row 44 surfs into Long Beach

9th September 2008 - 12:09 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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ASPIRING Ku-band connectivity service provider Row 44 yesterday took spectacularly to the water to show that its business plan is much more than hot air. The Californian company's flight-test aircraft, a vintage Grumman Albatross flying boat, made its public debut here, and Inflight Online was among the first news organisation to see it in close-up action.

"When we realised it might take longer than planned to get our equipment on to an aircraft from one of our trial airlines, we decided to buy our own so we could complete our development and show what we can do to potential customers," said company president Gregg Fialcowitz.

Anyone gazing out across Long Beach Channel from the convention centre yesterday afternoon would have seen the sturdy amphibian, beautiful restored and gleaming in Row 44 corporate colours, taxiing past the Queen Mary before taking off from the open water. A closer look would have revealed the Row 44 radome and antenna, hatch-mounted on the upper fuselage. Inside, clustered neatly on the underside of the hatch, was the rest of the fit - the high-power transceiver (HPT), modem data unit (MDU), the switch management unit (SMU) communications router, and a WiFi wireless access point.

"We acquired the aircraft in June and our own technical staff completed the installation six weeks ago," said Fialcowitz. "We chose it because it gives us an exceptional ability to work in the places like Alaska and the Aleutians at the edges of our North American coverage. In fact we can take it almost anywhere in the planet."

Row 44 is poised to complete the FCC licensing process that will clear the way for airborne work in US airspace with the three satellite transponders that it has leased to date. In the meantime, the aircraft has flown from New Hampshire to its base at Van Nuys in Los Angeles, passing through Canadian airspace en route.

"We're licensed in Canada, which allowed us to give the system its first airborne workout," said Fialcowitz. "We reliably achieved 4Mbit/sec down to the aircraft, and it could have been more. While the modem is currently limited to that figure, the satellite capacity is rated at 15Mbit/sec."

Row 44 plans to start trials with Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines within the next two months. The first installation, in an Alaska Boeing 737, is due to start before the end of this month, with work at Southwest due to begin a few weeks later. "We expect the Alaska installation to fly before the end of next month, with the first of four Southwest aircraft following about a month later," said Fialcowitz.

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