Airborne communications leap forward with Row 44 approval

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In a move that could usher in a new era for airborne communications the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has green-lighted Row 44's application to operate an aeronautical mobile-satellite service (AMSS) in the conventional Ku-band segment.

The award, being heralded by Row 44 as "a major victory", comes one month after Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines urged the FCC to finally approve the California-based firm's application, which had come under persistent fire from would-be rival ViaSat.

Alaska and Southwest are trialing Row 44's high-speed broadband system on a total five Boeing 737s. Their ability to expand the service fleet-wide hinged upon the approval of Row 44's application.

As recently as 29 July, ViaSat asked the FCC to refrain from granting authority to Row 44. But Row 44 persevered, learning this week that it had received the crucial operating license from the FCC.

The license, together with the license already granted to Row 44 in Canada and a 'right to operate' agreement in Mexico, allows Row 44 to provide uninterrupted airborne Internet service throughout the North American continent, and brings it ever closer to providing near global coverage.

Row 44 holds the distinction of being the first Ku-band-based connectivity service provider to operate in the commercial sector following the late 2006 demise of Connexion by Boeing.

In a statement issued today, Row 44 CEO John Guidon said: "Today's announcement of the FCC's ruling signals a major victory for Row 44 and our airline customers in our vision of bringing affordable broadband to the skies.

"Ours is the first solution offering true broadband to airline passengers, both domestically and overseas, delivering an experience comparable to the high Internet speeds they enjoy at home and work. No longer will an airline be forced to accept an unattractive compromise between the performance it can offer and the service price it must charge."

While North American regulators do not currently permit in-flight mobile phone calls or SMS text messaging, the Row 44 system will support these services, notes Row 44. It says it intends to offer these services to airline customers throughout the world, wherever such activities are permitted and requested by airlines.

In addition to trial partners Alaska and Southwest, Row 44 recently secured a deal to bring its high-speed broadband offering to Norwegian.

The company faces competition in the Ku-band space from Panasonic Avionics, which is offering its own high-speed Internet service under the brand eXConnect. Aircell, which offers connectivity over an air-to-ground link, has secured deals with a large number of North American carriers. Its service does not support connectivity on overseas flights, however.