Southwest Cranking Up Fleetwide Wi-Fi

Using Wi-Fi mobile technology from Row 44, Southwest plans to begin installation of broadband service on its 540 airplanes in the second quarter and to complete the task by early 2012.

Southwest Airlines aims to complete the installation of Wi-Fi equipment on its full fleet of 540 airplanes within two years. Using technology from Row 44, Southwest plans to begin the installation in the second quarter.

"We expect to install equipment on around 15 aircraft per month initially, with the goal of increasing that number to 25 aircraft a month as we ramp up the process," Southwest executive Dave Ridley wrote on Southwest's Nuts About Southwest blog Jan. 29. "With this schedule, we estimate that our full fleet ... will be outfitted with Wi-Fi service by early 2012."

Customers will have access to the full range of online activities, including Web browsing, online music, e-mail and instant messaging. VOIP (voice over IP) service and cell phone use is banned by the FCC. Ridley said Southwest will decide on pricing in the second quarter of 2010.

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.

Aircell, Row 44's competitor in providing airline Wi-Fi, uses ground-to-airplane technology.