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Row 44's in-flight Internet service gets off the ground

The Westlake Village firm, which is outfitting airlines with inexpensive satellite-based devices that allow passengers to stay connected, may succeed where Boeing failed.

November 24, 2009|By W.J. Hennigan

Farrar of Telecom Media cautioned that although Row 44's Wi-Fi service is innovative, the company's profitability depends on how much people are willing to pay for the service. This is what ultimately sank Connexion, and it has the potential to do the same to other Wi-Fi providers if they don't get their price right, he said.

"There is a huge appetite for online entertainment right now," Farrar said. "It's just hard to get the everyday passenger unless the price is low."

Row 44 is facing stiff competition from Aircell, which uses a network of ground antenna sites across the U.S. to establish a link with the airplane. Passengers connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi devices placed within the plane's cabin.

Aircell is available on all Virgin America and AirTran Airways flights. It can also be found on some American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines flights. Aircell's typical charge for a single session ranges from $6 to $13.

But Aircell has limited coverage, analysts said. The service is available only over areas where there are ground antennae. There would be no coverage for flights that fly across an ocean, for instance.

This was one of the reasons that Alaska Airlines chose Row 44, spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said.

"One of the most attractive aspects of Row 44's technology is that they provide access to some of the harder-to-reach places," Egan said. "This was really important for our airline because we fly over water and land."

By tapping into Hughes' satellite network, Row 44 has the capability to provide worldwide Internet access. Fialcowitz hopes this will favor Row 44 in the transoceanic market.

"I believe we will become the dominant player in providing in-flight broadband connectivity for the global market," he said. But for now, "it's a land grab out there."

william.hennigan@

latimes.com

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