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Airlines Announce High-Flying Internet Services

Last Tuesday Alaska Airlines announced it would launch in-flight wireless Internet service next year. Alaska Airlines is using equipment from Row 44, which provides the Internet service using Ku-band satellite links and AeroSat antennas. Alaska Airlines said Row 44’s system would function over land, water and across international borders. This would allow service throughout Alaska Airline’s route system, which includes Alaska, the lower 48 states, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico. The airline will test the system on its next-generation Boeing 737 aircraft in spring 2008. If all goes well, the company will equip its 114-aircraft fleet with the technology.

“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,” said Steve Jarvis, Alaska Airlines vice president of sales. “We’re moving ahead with testing and ultimately plan to bring wireless broadband to our whole fleet.”

Passengers will connect to the system using wireless hotspots installed inside the aircraft cabin. The AeroSat antenna is mounted on the top of the plane.

Last week AirCell said Virgin America would be using its system to provide broadband Internet services to passengers. AirCell said its system extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the Canadian and Mexican borders. As with Row 44, passengers would use a WiFi connection to access the Internet from their laptops. The news release said the cost of service will be announced when the service becomes available.

“AirCell’s broadband service is the obvious choice to add to our guest experience,” said Charles Ogilvie, Virgin America’s director of Inflight Entertainment and Partnerships. “Our goal with broadband is simple: let guests decide how and when they want to communicate and interact by providing relevant options. In AirCell we have a partner who knows and understands innovation.”

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.