Where is Row 44′s permanent authority from the FCC?

Just a quick and dirty update here, folks. I know many of you have been wondering what’s going on with Row 44′s application for permanent authority from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

One thing you’ll note if you troll through the FCC web site is that Row 44 submitted its ground and in-flight test results, but requested confidential treatment of them.

ViaSat, which objects to Row 44′s application, has agreed with the California-based company to a protective order whereby ViaSat has access to the test reports but must protect the documents and keep them confidential.

ViaSat is not commenting on the data showing on the reports, good or bad. So we’re still waiting, but at least these two can agree on something! ;) 

Noted IFE&C consultant Michael Planey still has high hopes for Row 44. And he took me to task for saying recently that the company is floundering about (for the record, I meant that the company still can’t do a whole lot without permanent authority).

But Planey makes some excellent points (and we’ll hear more from him – and our former Connexion friend – later).

Key quote:

“I still believe that Row 44 is well positioned to rapidly expand into the International marketplace.  I wouldn’t say that they are ‘floundering about’ as you did because they are steadily gathering experience and data through their partnerships with Southwest and Alaska. 

“That experience will help smooth out some of the rougher edges when it comes time to expand to additional customers. Given that Southwest has more than 400 aircraft to possibly equip and that Alaska Airlines and Norwegian Air Shuttle are also onboard, Row 44 has a substantial customer base already established. 

“I don’t have any insight into the length of time remaining on the FCC approval process, but unless it drags into 2010 I believe that Row 44 will be fine.” 

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6 Responses to Where is Row 44′s permanent authority from the FCC?

  1. Bob June 1, 2009 at 10:58 am #

    As I understand the FCC time line, Row 44 could not have received a permanent license before now.

  2. Mary Kirby June 1, 2009 at 11:10 am #

    Aircell’s Jack Blumenstein said the same thing – two years ago. Turns out he was right. It’s handbags at ten paces at the FCC. But why then did Row 44 plan for otherwise? Surely the company did its homework on the process?!?

  3. Not an aviator June 1, 2009 at 4:45 pm #

    Many thanks for covering this topic EXTREMELY well. I have a couple of questions for you, if you don’t mind.

    Once upon a time, I was involved with Wireless system concepts for commercial aircraft. The biggest problems most designers were facing were…

    (1) the very dense concentration of users, and the “unevenness” (there’s a yuckspeak candidate) of demand; and

    (2) reverberation inside the fuselage as well as spectrum absorption by all the randomly-placed 50-100kg sacks of salt water on board (e.g., self-loading freight).

    The upshot was that all the plans for a sparsely-patronized Starbucks wireless experience were nigh impossible. A row of three kids demading asynchronous video would load an access point to the point that the business person wishing only text e-mails could not get on the network, but could three rows back. Further, the two ex-pro wrestlers sitting across from him (here we go again on we merry band of chubby turista) would attentuate the signal. If you’ve ever been in a hotel conference room doing e-mails during the break, somebody at the table clicks on the latest Arsenal highlight clip and everyone else drops off, you understand the experience.

    Does Row 44 solve this, and if so have you seen it in action?

    The project I worked on used a much lighter and much more robust system based on both a unique antenna design as well as some powerful software to make it all work. I personally participated in a demo that ran 100 “pax” with laptops demanding asynchronous video all at once inside a 737-200, and it worked. Doing the same with coffee shop access points would weigh 50 kg more (at least), if it could work at all. This was one of the reasons Boeing shelved wireless IFE for the 787 (for now) because it actually weighed MUCH more than a wired solution. Of course, IFE providers are loathe to provide a solution that uses personal devices because they don’t sell as much stuff.

    Would that still be a breakthrough, or is it all solved now?

  4. Ludwig von Hapsburg XII "Stinky" June 1, 2009 at 9:07 pm #

    You can’t rush greatness, and if Row44 is all its cracked up to be then I would say they are on schedule and staying focused on doing right by their key customers (most notably Southwest).

    The last thing they want to do is make big promises and rush things so they end up with egg on their faces and compelling their customers to look elsewhere.

    Lastly, remember the US GOV acts as a self-greasing axle, and anything “run” by them (GM-Government Motors, the Congressional Canteen, their own tax sheets) certainly begs patience and ignorance on our part.


  5. Bob June 2, 2009 at 10:59 am #

    @NotAnAviator: The same problem would apply to any onboard system, not just Row 44. Sounds like Aircell has solved the problem by pricing their service high so there are fewer users. I don’t know what system you worked on but it obviously wasn’t commercially viable. Let’s hope the current round of contenders can do better.

  6. Not an aviator June 3, 2009 at 9:54 am #


    I certainly agree that any discrete-access-point system would be swamped as you say; I’ve witnessed it myself.

    But on the thought that our system was not commercially viable: on the contrary: it was quite so. The problem we had was that every investor was thinking surely the big boys (e.g, Panasonic, Thales) would solve the problem and leave this little startup in the dust, so why invest.

    I heard that same tune for years as we developed and then demo’d the concept (on the ground, of course, but inside a real aeroplane with real people), but have yet to see anyone else make the leap.

    Of course, I’ve been out of this for a while, hence my curiosity about other solutions. If the problem of distribution is not solved, then the wireless environment pax expect will never happen — or, if it does, it will only happen with a lot of extra weight (and thus will always be an expensive perk).

    Miss Mary, what can you tell us?

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