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8/21/2009
12:04 PM
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Southwest Air Preps To Fly With Wi-Fi

The airline has tested Row 44 satellite Wi-Fi service with laptops, iPhones and other smartphones.

Southwest Airlines reported Friday that it intends to begin a fleetwide Wi-Fi rollout of Row 44's satellite service beginning in the first quarter of next year, setting the stage for a provider competition between Row 44 and Aircell's Gogo Inflight Internet Wi-Fi service.

Gogo, which has outfitted several U.S. airlines with Wi-Fi, utilizes a network of ground towers that beam signals to aircraft antennas.

Southwest has been testing the Row 44 service on four aircraft since February and the airline said the Row 44 service "has received fantastic customer feedback on the product." Southwest will suffer a Wi-Fi competitive disadvantage until it catches up with several major airlines, which began to install the Gogo service a few months ago.

"We have concluded our testing for inflight Wi-Fi and are very happy with both the technical performance of the system and the response of customers who have used it," said Dave Ridley, Southwest Airlines senior vice president of marketing and revenue management, in a statement.

Southwest said that its passengers have tested the Wi-Fi service with different devices including laptops, iPhones and other Wi-Fi enabled smartphones.

The Row 44 service is supported by satellite provider Hughes Network Systems. The service will enable passengers on global flights to connect to the Internet and even to make VoIP telephone calls in countries and regions were regulatory agencies have granted permission. To date, voice calls are forbidden on all U.S. flights, but some airlines and services are lobbying the FCC and other regulatory agencies to remove the voice ban.

Alaska Airlines also has been testing the Row 44 service.

AirCell's Gogo inflight service has a Wi-Fi head start. AirTran, for instance, has outfitted its entire 136-aircraft fleet with Wi-Fi along with Virgin America, which has a fleet of 30 Wi-Fi enabled planes. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines are aggressively installing Wi-Fi equipment on their aircraft. Aircell built its system after it purchased spectrum that had been used by Verizon Communications' seatback Airfone system.


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