Row44 Ramps Up On Alaska Airlines


Without much fanfare last month, Row44 and Alaska Airlines repeated connectivity history with hopes of changing your flight experience. They installed an external antenna, a satcom receiver/transmitter, and a couple of Wireless Access points (see image) and started flying their airborne Internet in an operational trial in a B737. Of course, the event we are talking about is the first US commercial airline install of some five years of work for the small California company know as Row44. Alaska Airlines saw the potential of airborne connectivity so we sought out Chase Craig who manages program development and market research for Alaska and he told IFExpress about the two week old project. The system is functioning in a low visibility mode trial prior to any go-ahead and formal project kickoff. For you bloggers and IFE junkies the operational B737 is t/n 644 and the plane is flying as-needed route applications within the Alaska system, rather than on dedicated route legs. We understand that the system is operating properly and that crews announce that fact to passengers. Alaska in accumulating operational and usage data in the process and will do so for some time.

We asked Mr. Craig about eventual pricing and he told IFExpress, “We think the existing airborne Internet pricing model is a too high and we are presently looking at a pricing model that is lower”. IFExpress thinks that the price will be in the region of $9.99 per day based on factors like the economy, not to mention that they are flying in competition with another product with a$13 price point. What would you charge?  We asked about system use: “Log on is easy”, said Chase, “We went to lengths to make our Terms of Use easy and straightforward. We don’t want to act as traffic cop to travelers who are Internet savvy but we wanted to clearly set out that Alaska desires to avoid public display of inappropriate content. “In that case, we will deny service”, he noted.

The system is capable of up to 30 Mbps but is presently throttled as a result of 802.11 B/G speeds. This should present no issues to multiple users, besides; we note that the system is scalable. Chase told us that he has used the system and is very pleased with its ease of use… not to mention the ease on fuel burn based on a system weight of less than 200 pounds. Operating at Ku Band stationary satellites, the Row44 hardware does not require a network of ground-based antennas. Not only is this a promising solution for undeveloped areas, but the obvious thought is an eventual over water solution. When the trial is complete and if Alaska chooses to equip their fleet, expect some 100 to 110 airplanes to be equipped with the Row44 hardware. We suppose that this is a good point to mention that other, bigger companies have tried and failed to deliver a satisfactory satcom-based, Ku band, airborne Internet solution. We acknowledge the Row44 accomplishment! Jolly good show!

Needless to say, the latest Wi-Fi lawsuit targeting Delta and AirCell was not lost on Alaska, “We are watching it with interest”, said Craig. We are too – Stay Tuned!

Here is a YouTube link for a short preview of the Row44/Alaska Airline Wi-Fi system in operation:

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