Friday, August 21, 2009

As Anticipated, Southwest Plans Fleet-Wide Rollout of Wi-Fi With Row44

Southwest Airlines confirmed today that, as expected, it would roll out in-flight Wi-Fi through its fleet using the satellite-based Row44 system starting early next year.

Southwest has been testing the Row44 system -- emerging as a major competitor to Aircell's land-based Gogo service -- all year on four of its approximately 530 Boeing 737s. Southwest said that feedback from those tests has been "fantastic" from customers.

[For background, please see my interview with Row44 CEO John Guidon in my post of Aug. 7.]

"We have concluded our testing for inflight Wi-Fi and are very happy with both the technical performance of the system and the response of customers who have used it," said Dave Ridley, Southwest senior vice president of marketing and revenue management. "We are pleased to be continuing with our plans to offer satellite-enabled broadband access through California-based Row 44."

Aircell's Gogo system is currently installed on about 600 aircraft, including msot of Delta's mainline domestic fleet and all of AirTran's and Virgin America's fleets. All of American's 767-200s and two-thirds of its MD80s are connected with Gogo. US Airways recently announced that it was going with the Gogo system, which United has also tested.

Now that it has bagged the big prize, Southwest, Row44 is expected to concentrate on international airlines, because its system, unlike Gogo, works over oceans. Row44 signed a deal with Norwegian Air Shuttle to install its system on that fast-growing carrier's fleet.

Of the major U.S. carriers, Continental is the only one that has not yet signaled its intentions on Wi-Fi -- and both Aircell and Row44 would obviouslyu like to snare that one.

The Southwest statement quotes Guidon: "Row 44 is thrilled to be the in-flight Wi-Fi service of choice for one of the most customer-focused airlines in the world.

Southwest said, "During the testing phase, customers have been utilizing the service for anything from e-mail to streaming video. Those interested in using the service during the test period have had the opportunity to log on to the service via their own personal Wi-Fi-enabled device (laptops, iPhones, Wi-Fi-enabled smart phones, etc). Additionally, the airline has been testing a variety of price points for the service and will continue testing price points through the end of 2009."

Aircell sets its own prices. Row44 intends to allow individual airlines to set prices.


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