Southwest Airlines to offer Internet access to flyers

Known for its unique boarding system and joke-telling cabin crew, Southwest will be the first US airline to test satellite-delivered broadband Internet access.

Through a partnership with privately held Southern California company Row 44, Southwest will be able to offer an anticipated 30 Mbps to Wi-Fi enabled devices at the cruising altitude of 32,000 feet. Tests are expected to begin on four aircraft this summer.

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The Row 44 system includes an antenna mounted on the fuselage, four LRUs (a.k.a. "Black Boxes") located above the cabin, a Server Management Unit, power amplifier, Antenna Control Unit, Modem Data Unit, and as many Wi-Fi access points as necessary. It can also be integrated into seatback screens when applicable.

In-flight 802.11 connectivity thus far not seen the uptake it needs for domestic investors to view it as economically viable. Boeing's Connexion was one notable example of such a failure. Though the system was well-regarded in Europe, it was shut down on the last day of 2006 due to lack of investment from United States air carriers. That system reportedly consumed a lot of space and actually added considerable weight to planes equipped with it.

SITA and Airbus' OnAir will also begin in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity this year, using the Inmarsat Swift 64 infrastructure. Deployment is expected to begin on both Airbus and Boeing craft.

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