Row 44's In-Flight Wi-Fi Poised For U.S. Take-Off, Europe Next

In-Flight Wi-Fi services have had come and gone, with Boeing abandoning its Connexion programtwo years ago, but at least one company is on the brink of bringing its system to a wide U.S. audience: Row 44. It's recently been trialing its services on aircraft in the Alaska and SouthWest Airlines fleets, and is poised to launch in flights to and within Europe.

Row 44's providing the technology for both Alaska and SouthWest to field-test on just a few aircraft, but it's close to securing permanent FCC approval for licensing which will let it expand its offerings across those two fleets, and into other U.S. airlines. And as Row 44's CEO John Guidon confirmed to us, that's just the start of the company's plans. Compared to other in-flight Wi-fi operators, like Gogo operating on American, Row 44 has access to a global network of satellites due to a deal with Hughes Network Systems, and that means its operations could cover flights globally. Which is in fact the plan--the company announced last week that it's soon to provide its Wi-Fi tech to European airlines for flights that are both trans-European and inter-continental.

The technology's essentially a few in-cabin wireless hotspots and some sophisticated satellite uplink-downlink tech that uses a blister antenna on the outside of the aircraft. Inside you pay once to access the system, as you would do when staying in a hotel, and then basically it's the same as surfing the web from your laptop at home. Inside the U.S., and for airlines that use Row 44's tech via a retail business model, the cost is around $7.99 per flight for laptops, and $5.99 for PDAs/smartphones (on the anticipation that smartphone users will probably consume less data.) On intercontinental flights the cost will be a little higher--around $14.99 for laptops--largely due to an expected lower uptake since the bigger aircraft on these routes generally have in-seat entertainment for free.

Whether or not you think Wi-Fi on a flight is a good idea probably correlates with how much you use the net personally anyway. But Row 44 sees it as a positive offering--the company's name stems from a nightmarishly boring flight Guidon took years ago, after which he determined to try to improve in-flight entertainment. People will probably also be pleased to know that VOIP calling is barred for passengers over Row 44's network, meaning you shouldn't get a peaceful flight interrupted with annoying phone calls.

Guidon's plan is to grow the company's business sustainably, and to eventually have a global offering. So it looks like in-flight internet over Wi-Fi is here to stay this time.