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FCC Approves Row 44 Aircraft Uplinks

Travelers on Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines should find more opportunities for in-flight Internet, now that the FCC has granted Row 44,blanket authority for "domestic operation of up to 1,000 technically identical transmit/receive aircraft "earth stations" in the Aeronautical Mobile Satellite Service (AMSS).

The Order and Authorization (DA 09-1752) released Wednesday allows aircraft "earth stations" to transmit in the 14.05-14.47 GHz band and receive in the 11.7-12.2 GHz band. The earth stations will be used to communicate with leased transponders on Horizon 1 at 127 degrees west longitude (WL), AMC-2 at 101 degrees WL, and AMC-9 at 83 degrees WL.

The grant will allow Row 44 to provide two-way, in-flight broadband services to both commercial and private aircraft passengers and flight crews.

The Order and Authorization contains a description of the earth station components. The system is designed to shut down the transmitter within 100 milliseconds if the pointing error exceeds 0.5 of a degree. Row 44 made several amendments to its original application, reducing the peak total equivalent isotropically radiated power (EIRP) to 38.6 dBW, and providing off-axis EIRP data, out-route link budgets, and antenna pattern data.

Row 44 has coordinated its operation with all potentially affected satellite operators.

In granting the authorization, the FCC required that a point of contact be available 24/7 and have the authority and ability to stop transmissions, and must be available to discuss interference concerns with other licensees and U.S. government agencies. The aircraft "earth stations" must employ a tracking algorithm resistant to capturing and tracking adjacent satellite signals, and each uplink has to be able to inhibit its own transmission in case it detects unintended satellite tracking.

Operating an uplink on an aircraft is complicated and the FCC's Order and Authorization provides an excellent outline of the technical issues involved.

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.