Southwest Airlines is starting to get the word out to passengers that it is offering Wi-Fi on board. The carrier has posted signs inside the cabin (see above) and on traytables of fitted aircraft. While admitting that the dome for the Ku-band antenna is a biggie, the carrier is apparently telling employees that its Boeing 737 winglets still give a fuel advantage over any drag created.
Meanwhile, in-flight connectivity service provider Row 44 is ready to double the bandwidth and double the fun for Southwest passengers. Row 44′s connectivity system is currently capable of supporting a data rate of more than 8 Mbps TCP/IP plus 15 UDP to aircraft. But Row 44 is in the process of developing a two-slot modem based on partner Hughes Network Systems’ technology that will ultimately offer more than 35 Mbit/s UDP to the aircraft “without affecting at all that 8 Mbps TCP/IP”, head of business development Frederick St Amour told me at the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.
These improvements in the technology architecture of Row 44′s onboard system are part of Row 44′s “secret sauce”, he says.
Another ingredient in the mix is Row 44′s new antenna partner Tecom, which teamed with German firm Qest to develop the new KuStream 1000 antenna that is now being installed on Southwest aircraft.
“Tecom has proven to be a very, very superior business partner. They are technologically adept, very skilled and very dedicated,” says St Amour. Row 44 previously used an Aerosat antenna for its system.
But what does the company’s promised boost in capacity mean for airlines and passengers? For passengers, it means unfettered access to ultra-high-speed Internet, movies, live television and GSM/GRPS functionality. For airlines, it means operational services, such as electronic flight bag (EFB) connectivity, cashless cabins and Medlink.
Formal rollout of the Row 44 system – with the KuStream 1000 antenna – on Southwest’s fleet has started, as evidenced by Southwest’s new signage. But equipage “will commence in earnest” next month, says St Amour. The carrier has said it intends to equip 15 aircraft per month, and ultimately expand to 25 aircraft per month.
In Europe, Norwegian will begin installing the Row 44 system on its Boeing 737-800s after the summer. The launch is occurring later than planned because “the STC process with the FAA has taken an unusually long time”, says St Amour. South African carrier Mango is expected to launch Row 44 service by year-end.