Alaska picks Aircell's Gogo in-flight Internet over Row 44

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Alaska Airlines has opted to install Aircell's Gogo in-flight Internet system on its entire fleet, reversing its previous plan to offer rival Row 44's Ku-band satellite-based connectivity service.

Explaining the carrier's decision, Alaska vice-president of marketing, sales and customer experience Steve Jarvis said: "With more than 730 systems already flying, Aircell has a proven track record of deploying affordable in-flight Wi-fi services to airline customers.

"Their reliable, lower-cost equipment can be installed quickly, allowing Alaska Airlines to introduce Gogo service to our customers as soon as possible."

Alaska had been trialling Row 44's Ku-band system on a single aircraft. It previously said that a successful trial would result in fleet-wide installations.

But while Alaska "successfully tested a satellite-based in-flight Wi-Fi service offered by Row 44" last year, it "ultimately chose Aircell's Gogo service to speed fleet-wide installation and Wi-fi availability for customers", says the carrier in a statement today.

Now Alaska will work with Aircell to install the Gogo air-to-ground (ATG)-based service on a Boeing 737-800 and will begin testing to secure FAA certification.

Once the equipment has been certified for Alaska's 737s, the airline will start outfitting its entire fleet, beginning with its 737-800s serving longer routes.

To ensure the Gogo service is available to the airline's namesake state, Aircell will expand its network of cell towers to provide Gogo on flights to, from and between key destinations in the state of Alaska. The Gogo system is currently only available in the US lower 48 states.

Gogo is offered customers at a cost of $4.95 and up, based on length of flight and device used.

To date, Aircell has secured the lion's share of US airlines as customers, with a notable exception. US low-cost giant Southwest Airlines, which had also been trialling Row 44, recently inked an equipment purchase contract with the California-based company.

Southwest will begin installing the Row 44 equipment in the second quarter of 2010, and is eyeing an early-2012 timeline to complete installations of the system.

Price points for the service are still being studied. Financial terms of the agreement between Southwest and Row 44 have not been disclosed.