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Tests begin on airline WIFI

POSTED: Tuesday, September 16, 2008 - 10:20am

UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 10:29pm

You can get Internet access in a Starbucks but not on a jumbo jet.

But surfing the Web on a flight is a step closer.

A California company called Row 44 is about to test market a KU-band Internet connection on two major airlines.

So far, attempts to offer passengers online access have not taken off.

Row 44 CEO John Guidon said his system is poised to complete the FCC licensing process that will clear the way for airborne connections in U.S. airspace

The company is leasing three satellite transponders and has been testing the service in Canada, where they have the proper license.

Row 44 says it will be testing the connection on select jets with Alaska and Southwest Airlines.

Southwest and Alaska Airlines are just waiting for FCC approval to test market WIFI Internet access on their aircraft.

Southwest plans to install the Internet connection on four of its planes while Alaska will start with just one plane.

Those planes will fly various routes while the airlines review the performance and survey passengers.

Eventually the airlines may expand WIFI accessibility to all flights and charge a fee for the service.

Los Angeles based ROW 44 is the company developing the satellite based connection.

Right now the company is testing access over Canadian skies while it waits for US government approval.

"They're going to use their WIFI just like they would in a hotel, just like they would at a coffee shop that has WIFI connectivity," says Row 44 spokesman Greg Fialcowitz. "It's creeping into subways, it's creeping into buses, creeping into trains, it's overdue getting onto aircraft."

Travelers at San Diego's Lindbergh Field were overall enthusiastic about the possibility of having online access on their flights.

"I want to be more productive on the plane rather than just sitting there listening to music," said one female Southwest passenger.

A male passenger agreed but cautioned, "Maybe some people wouldn't like it because there will be more work to do all the time. You're never out of reach."

The system will work with a PC or MAC and also with WIFI capable Blackberries and iPhones.

There are concerns about online content while flying.

ROW 44 says they will block websites if asked by the airlines.

Southwest and Alaska hope to be testing the satellite service by the end of the year.

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