ViaSat and others prove thorn in Row 44′s side; Alaska says test delayed

Alaska Airlines today revealed to RWG that it’s trial of Row 44′s Ku band-based connectivity service is “on hold” until early 2009. Plans had been in place for the carrier to test Row 44 on a single Boeing 737 around the October timeframe.

An Alaska spokeswoman says the carrier remains fully committed to the trial. “We’re full steam ahead,” she says. “We’re testing but the system has not been installed on the aircraft.”

Row 44 system.jpgWhen I last spoke with Row 44 in September – and climbed atop its Albatros seaplane testbed - management felt pretty confident that the Alaska trial would occur within weeks.

I haven’t been able to reach Row 44 today, but I can tell you that the California firm continues to wait for a crucial green-light from the FCC.

On 8 May, the firm filed an application for permanent authority to operate an aeronautical mobile-satellite service (AMSS) in the conventional Ku-band segment.

Row 44 proposed to operate up to 1000 transmit/receive terminals aboard commercial and private aircraft in order to provide two-way broadband communications to passengers and flight crew, including email, Internet access, and virtual private networks – the same services as those proposed by Boeing’s now-defunct Connexion venture.

The application was placed on public notice on 28 May and can be found here.

BUT, the following events have taken place:

ViaSat on 27 June filed a petition to deny the application. A competitor and holder of an AMSS license to provide similar services to airlines, ViaSat claimed that the the application fails to provide sufficient information to determine whether the proposed operations meet the FCC’s two-degree spacing requirements.

On 23 July, Row 44 opposed ViaSat’s petition to deny, asserting, among other things, that it has provided all the information required by the rules and that operators of the space segment have filed letters stating that they are aware of Row 44′s proposed operations and will coordinate these operations with adjacent satellite operators.

In addition, Row 44 argued that it provided letters from NASA and the National Science Foundation resolving potential interference to TDRSS and radio astronomy sites. But ViaSat filed a reply to Row 44′s opposition and argued that Row 44 failed to address ViaSat’s concerns.

On 30 September, the Bureau designated the application as “permit-but-disclose” for purposes of the commission’s ex parte rules.

On 1 October, reps from Row 44 and ViaSat met with members of the International Bureau. Boeing and Arinc also filed letters asking the Bureau not to grant Row 44 any authorization until alleged technical issues involving Row 44′s operations are resolved.

 

Independently, the division has twice sent letters to Row 44 seeking additional technical information on the proposed operations. In response, Row 44 has twice amended its application in response to these letters. The most recent amendment was placed on public notice on 10 September. On 10 October, ViaSat responded to the amendment by filing a supplement to its ‘Petition to Deny’.

Thus far, Row 44 has filed three STA requests, each seeking 60-day authorization to conduct testing of its AMSS service. The first request, which was granted on 9 May, was to test “fixed-ground” terminals. Row 44 was granted one 60-day extension to this STA on 7 July, and has a request for another 60-day extension. 

The second STA request, which remains pending, is for mobility trials and was filed on 11 July. ViaSat filed an opposition to this STA and Row 44 has filed additional information regarding its proposed operations. 

The third STA request, which remains pending, is for a temporary fixed earth station and was filed on 11 August. The request was opposed by ViaSat.  Row 44 withdrew this STA request on 8 October (see page nine of 11 of the following document).

Okay, so what does this all mean? Well, a FCC spokesman says Row 44′s application is “something that does have priority with us” but that a timeline for a decision has not been announced. 

One industry expert explains: “The FCC approval process is well defined but fairly schedule indeterminate since it is dependent on input from other operators affected by the waiver. They might get a waiver but it will take work, analysis and time.”

Like Row 44, ViaSat could not be immediately reached for comment. Now that is a real shame.

It’s Friday evening and I’m going to reserve my own comment…until later.

(Interior upview photo of Row 44 system from Row 44′s Flickr file at http://www.flickr.com/photos/airfax/2880012682/in/set-72157607435925577/ )

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