FCC Streamlines In-Flight WiFi

The FCC today established formal rules for satellite-based in-flight WiFi services such as that offered by Row 44, used by Southwest Airlines. Until today, such services could only be approved on a case-by-case basis. The new rules are designed to streamline the process, making it easier to roll out services that use satellite backhaul for in-flight Wi-Fi, cellular service, and live television.

Satellite WiFi provider Row 44, has secured exclusive North American rights with Hughes for backbone connections.

Rules already exist for competing services that connect planes directly to the ground using a network of cell towers with upward-facing antennas, such as GoGo which use terrestrial towers pointing up towards the skies.

Meanwhile, terrestrial-based Gogo has been testing its next generation air-to-ground (ATG) system, for the last four months. The new EVDO Rev. B system, combined with directional antennas, is capable of a maximum of 9.8 Mbps, tripling the peak speed of the previous air-to-ground network.

Satellite provided In flight connectivity is available Panasonic’s eXConnect system and AeroMobile while OnAir uses a satellite data unit (SDU) manufactured by Thales and a backhaul link through Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband in the L band. Gogo also plans a Ku-band satellite system for long-haul flights.

Qualcomm’s hopes to support “multi-gigabit per second” broadband connectivity to aircraft, but has run into staunch opposition from myriad stakeholders, including Boeing and the Satellite Industry Association (pdf).

Qualcomm wants to establish a new terrestrial-based, secondary status for air-ground mobile service in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band (within the satellite Ku band). The move was backed by Gogo customers, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Virgin America, as well as Gogo itself.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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