Southwest eyes 2012 completion of in-flight Wi-fi installs

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Five months after announcing plans to offer Row 44's high-speed in-flight Internet solution across its entire fleet of 540-plus 737s Southwest Airlines has inked an equipment purchase contract with the California-based firm and revealed it is eyeing an early-2012 timeline to complete the installations.

"True, the road to onboard Wi-fi has been a long one, but this week we took a major step that gets us closer to rolling out the system fleet-wide. We ended the equipment 'testing' phase and signed an equipment purchase contract with our Wi-fi provider, Row 44. That means we now begin the process of getting equipment ordered and aircraft scheduling in place to begin our full fleet installation," says Southwest senior vice-president, marketing and revenue management Dave Ridley in a blog post.

Ridley says Southwest will begin installing the Row 44 equipment in the second quarter of 2010, a few months later than originally planned.

"We expect to install equipment on around 15 aircraft per month initially, with the goal of increasing that number to 25 aircraft a month as we ramp up the process. With this schedule, we estimate that our full fleet of more than 540 planes will be outfitted with Wi-fi service by early 2012," he says.

Price points for the service are still being studied. "We don't have an answer to that quite yet. We're still testing a variety of price points on the four aircraft that currently have Wi-fi," says Ridley, adding: "We'll have a decision on price in the second quarter of 2010 - rest assured that, just like our fares, it will be a great value."

Financial terms of the agreement between Southwest and Row 44 have not been disclosed.

Alaska Airlines is in the process of testing Row 44. The carrier has previously said it intends to go fleet-wide with the satellite-based solution.

Row 44 is getting a later start in the US in-flight connectivity market than Aircell, whose air-to-ground (ATG)-based broadband system Gogo has been installed on more than 700 aircraft in the US fleet, including on the entire fleets of AirTran Airways and Virgin America and, eventually, Delta Air Lines.

Whereas Row 44's Ku-band satellite-based connectivity solution can operate on overseas flights, Aircell's ATG system cannot.