Alaska to start in-flight Internet trial

Washington DC
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After months of delays, Alaska Airlines today begins a roughly 60-day revenue service trial of in-flight wireless Internet on a Boeing 737-700.

Passengers on an afternoon Seattle-San Jose, California flight will be able to access Row 44's satellite-based connectivity for free using Wi-Fi-enabled devices such as laptops, smartphones and portable media players.

Once the trial is complete, Alaska says it will examine pricing models and a potential time frame for offering the service throughout its entire fleet. But there are regulatory issues to resolve before Row 44's Ku-band system can be used permanently. While Alaska received an airworthiness certification from the FAA for the equipment involved with broadband usage, final approval is outstanding from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Parts of Row 44's application to the FCC for permanent authority to operate an aeronautical mobile-satellite service (AMSS) in the conventional Ku-band segment are under dispute by the company's competitors.

ViaSat and JetBlue Airways subsidiary LiveTV have highlighted concerns that the system could cause interference of satellite communications, an argument Row 44 disputes.

Alaska's passenger trial comes after extensive ground and in-flight testing and the carrier is the latest to demonstrate the technology.

Southwest Airlines began offering Row 44's Ku-band system on a 737 revenue flight earlier this month. Dallas-based Southwest says it is set to equip three more aircraft by early March, and the low-cost carrier has petitioned the FCC to grant Row 44 the authority to operate an AMSS in the conventional Ku-band segment.