Alaska Airlines is planning to offer satellite-based broadband connectivity to its passengers, after inking an agreement with Row 44 that is expected to result in fleetwide installations of the California-based company’s system.

The deal, announced today at the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) conference and exhibition in Toronto, also marks the first publicly announced airline customer for Row 44, which is offering high-bandwidth service based on technology from satellite networks and services specialist Hughes. The two-way Ku antennas and high power amplifiers for use in Row 44’s system are being provided by AeroSat.

Under the terms of the Alaska agreement, the carrier will test Row 44’s system on a Boeing 737NG in the spring of 2008. Passengers with WiFi-enabled devices, such as laptops, PDAs, smartphones and portable gaming systems will have high-speed access to the Internet, e-mail, virtual private networks and stored in-flight entertainment content.

Based on the trial’s outcome, plans are in place to equip the carrier’s 114-strong fleet. Row 44 would look to support a "rapid deployment" plan, a Row 44 spokeswoman told ATI,'s sister news service, on 18 September at the show.

"Bringing broadband Internet access to the skies is one of the most important things we can do to enhance the experience of both business and leisure customers," says Alaska.

"We’re moving ahead with testing and ultimately plan to bring wireless broadband to our whole fleet."

A three-year old company, privately-held Row 44 started becoming more visible earlier this year, when it revealed to ATI that it had secured a US launch customer.

At product launch, Row 44 plans to provide 100% coverage of North America including Alaska through the southernmost tip of Mexico. This will ensure service throughout Alaska Airlines’ route system.

Row 44’s expansion into Europe and transatlantic routes will follow. "We would target getting it out to Europe /transatlantic by the end of next year," says the Row 44 spokeswoman.

Thereafter, Row 44 is targeting deployment in the Middle East and Asia.