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FCC Approves Row 44 In-Flight Wi-Fi

The company will be able to offer satellite-based broadband service on planes throughout North America.

In a development that is likely to heat up global competition to provide Wi-Fi on passenger aircraft, Row 44 reported Thursday that the Federal Communications Commission has granted it a permanent operating license to provide Internet service on planes.

The license, when combined with Row 44's existing agreements with the Mexican and Canadian governments, means the company will be able to provide its satellite-based Wi-Fi service throughout North America. The company also indicated it will offer its service in additional global markets.

"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," said Row 44 CEO John Guidon, in a statement.

Row 44, whose service has been tested by Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines, is supported by Hughes Network Systems, whose broadband satellite technology reaches many global markets.

A competing in-flight service offered by AirCell in the United States has a head start on Row 44. Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet service has already been installed by several U.S. airlines. Last month, AirTran said its entire 136-aircraft fleet had been outfitted with the Gogo service. Other airlines installing the Aircell service include American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Virgin America. Aircell utilizes ground antennas for its service.

The FCC approval took longer than Row 44 expected, but Guidon said, "We believe our North American airline partners and their passengers will find this in-flight service well worth the wait."

Noting that the FCC still bans in-flight phone calls on U.S. domestic flights, Row 44 said it intends to offer mobile phoning to its global airline customers in regions where it is permitted. In Europe, for instance, in-flight cell phone calls are permitted by regulatory agencies. European provider OnAir, for instance, offers voice calling capability as well as Internet surfing on European flights.

Another competitor is Panasonic Avionics, which supplies in-flight calling and Wi-Fi service in some global markets.

An earlier attempt to deliver in-flight Wi-Fi by Boeing's Connexion unit failed to get serious traction and was shut down after losses of hundreds of millions dollars. However, Connexion antennas are still located on some aircraft, including Germany's Lufthansa planes, and could be used for some future satellite-based in-flight service.

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