Southwest to Roll Out Wi-Fi Fleetwide in Q1 2010

southwest-logoSouthwest Airlines (s luv) said today that it will begin a fleetwide rollout of its in-flight Wi-Fi service in the first quarter of 2010, putting it on track to be the first major airline to offer broadband access in all of its planes. The service, in partnership with Row 44, has been in the testing stage for the past year; it provides roughly 30 Mbps of bandwidth to a plane via Ku band satellites (and can theoretically make your cell phone work, too!).
Alaska Airlines (s alk) is also using Row 44’s in-flight Wi-Fi, which competes with Aircell’s air-to-ground based service, called gogo. Southwest is still working on final pricing and said it will “continue testing price points through the end of 2009.” Currently, it costs between $2 and $12 per flight, depending on the distance of the flight and the type of device used to connect. Presumably this means iPod Touch and MacBook Pro users pay different prices. According to market research firm In-Stat, by 2012, in-flight broadband will be a billion-dollar-a-year business. Southwest operates some 3,200 flights per day on its more than 500 Boeing 737 aircraft.

Alaska Airlines to Offer In-flight Internet Access

as-history-overview4Alaska Airlines (s alk) has started a trial of satellite broadband technology from California-based Row 44 that will allow customers to get — what else? — Internet when on the go. Row 44 had predicted commercial rollout of its service in 2009. This new service will be called Alaska Airlines Inflight Wi-Fi; the trial will begin on an afternoon flight between Seattle and San Jose, Calif., and will run for about 60 days. If successful, the airline will roll out the service to its entire fleet. Row 44 has tied up with Southwest Airlines (s luv) and is challenging Aircell and its gogo service. Aircell has teamed up with Virgin America, American Airlines (s amr), Delta and others. Row 44 used Ku band satellites, while Aircell is based on an air-to-ground system. JetBlue-owned (s jblu) LiveTV and ViaSat (s vsat) are two other players vying to carve out a piece of the inflight broadband market. (Related: Inflight Broadband Cheat Sheet & Boeing, Boeing… Gone.)

In-Flight Broadband Cheat Sheet

Updated: You just can’t keep the American urge to be productive down. Literally. That’s why in-flight Wi-Fi services get tech journalists and business travelers all excited, even as Congress tries to ban those pesky mobile phone calls on planes. I kind of like being forced to read a book, but the siren song of a blog post will surely lead me to seek out in-flight Wi-Fi on my next trip to San Francisco. Please raise your seats backs to the upright position and check out our list of in-flight broadband options:

  • Today Delta is announcing in-flight Wi-Fi for all of its U.S. flights using the Gogo service from Aircell. The service will cost $9.95 for a flight that’s three hours or less and $12.95 for flights that are more than three hours (Aircell’s set rate). As direct flights decrease, many travelers will likely get stuck paying twice – -for each leg of the flight — but if I can watch Hulu instead of the in-flight movie it might be worth it. Wait, I’m supposed to be working. A Delta spokesman says the service will debut on East Coast flights first and cover the Delta fleet by mid-2009.
  • American Airlines said in August of 2007 that it would provide in-fight Wi-Fi to folks traveling on jets used mostly on transcontinental routes. Last month it said it would trial the service (it’s also using Aircell) in 15 jets. It has tested the service on flights traveling from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco as well as on New York and Miami flights.
  • Virgin America offers in-flight Wi-Fi on transcontinental flights via Aircell as well, and is still in the testing phase. Update: Virgin says they will have Wi-Fi for customers (the crew already has it) on several planes by the end of the year and fleet wide by the end of March 2009. Pricing has yet to be determined.
  • Southwest Airlines is planning satellite-based Wi-Fi on four of its planes this summer, but we’re still waiting to hear more details.