After a longer than expected approval process, Row 44 said Aug. 6 the Federal Communications Commission has approved the company’s satellite-based in-flight Wi-Fi for commercial aircraft. Combined with licenses already granted in Canada and Mexico, Row 44 plans to offer uninterrupted airborne Internet service throughout the North American continent.
Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines have already held trials using Row 44 technology. Customers using the service will have the full range of online activities, including Web browsing, online music, e-mail and instant messaging. VOIP service and cell phone use are banned by the FCC.
The Row 44 system provides downlink data rates averaging 30M bps and 620K bps maximum in the uplink direction. Along with providing broadband for passengers, Row 44’s technology also provides airlines a broadband link for operational data. The system weighs less than 150 pounds.
“Ours is the first solution offering true broadband to airline passengers, both domestically and overseas, delivering an experience comparable to the high Internet speeds they enjoy at home and work,” Row 44’s CEO John Guidon said in a statement. “Achieving this critical regulatory milestone took us longer than we’d anticipated, but we believe our North American airline partners and their passengers will find this in-flight service well worth the wait.”
Aircell, Row 44’s competitor in providing airline Wi-Fi, uses ground-to-airplane technology. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Virgin America are using Aircell technology on selected flights and AirTrans plans to deploy broadband Internet access using Aircell on every flight across its entire fleet of Boeing 737 and 717 aircraft.
Row 44 claims its satellite-based system provides the fastest Wi-Fi in the air. The system is supported by the global infrastructure of Hughes Network Systems. “No longer will an airline be forced to accept an unattractive compromise between the performance it can offer and the service price it must charge,” Guidon said.
Row 44’s major system components include a low-profile antenna mounted on the top of the fuselage. Four compact line-replaceable units are installed above the cabin headlining just below the antenna: a server management unit, a high power amplifier, an antenna control unit and a modem data unit. To distribute a Wi-Fi signal, one or more wireless access units are placed in the airplane cabin.