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.

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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