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Travel Q&A: The future of in-flight Internet Печать E-mail
Новости - Зарубежные новости
Автор: Newsmaster   
30.12.2008 07:28
U.S. airlines may be cutting back flights, but their race to provide in-flight Internet continues unabated.

Our conversation this week is with John Guidon, CEO and founder of Row 44, one of the companies hoping to capture a share of the nascent market.

The Westlake Village, Calif.-based company develops technology for Internet and data connection to commercial aircraft using the global satellite network of its partner Hughes. Its service is not yet available commercially, but its customer test flights are scheduled for early next year.

Row 44 received a significant boost when it signed Southwest Airlines, which has a reputation of being selective in capital investment, as one of its customers. Alaska Airlines also chose Row 44 for its satellite capability — Alaska operates numerous flights above water, where the cell tower system used by AirCell, Row 44's chief competitor, won't function.

Guidon and co-founder Gregg Fialcowitz started Row 44 in 2004 — named after the cramped and uncomfortable row of seats in DC-10s — to compete with the now defunct Connexion by Boeing. After signing several high-profile foreign airlines, Connexion shut down at the end of 2006 due to lack of demand.

•Q: What changes can we expect in your industry in the coming years?

There will be growing expectation that (in-flight connectivity) will be ubiquitous. We're starting to see good demand from major airlines. Airlines right now have to spend money to provide in-flight entertainment. They spend a lot of money on movies and so on, and there's no revenue to offset the cost. We believe revenue from connectivity can turn that around, and make in-flight entertainment experience a profit center.

The overhead and effort required to establish to large international networks probably means that there isn't (going to be) multiple networks. You might see a lot of companies say they're going to try (in-flight WiFi) and you're going to see that stabilize to a very low number — one or two.

Q: Tell us about some changes in the works to improve or expand your current products/services?

We'll be deploying in North America commercially in 2009. That means very heavy rollout.

We're already working with Southwest and Alaska. We already have FAA certification to install the equipment. The test to customers will be in January. That's when you see it getting on planes.

In the middle of the year, we will...have service across the Atlantic and all over Europe. We have global aspirations. We're making sure we have traction in each market and can see profitability before we move forward.

We'll also be offering cellphone connectivity in 2009 where it is allowed and where airlines ask us for it. I know this has become a political hot potato in the U.S. We're clear on this. Customers, for us, are airlines. We'll do what airlines want us to do. We have the technology to offer cellphone connectivity.

In 2009, we'll be providing TV along with our data. We can integrate with seatback monitors. We're certainly going to be offering (TV) over the laptop (via Wi-Fi). We're talking about a number of recognizable channels directly broadcast to servers on the plane.

Q: Tell us one thing about your company or product that most people don't know.

We do a tremendous amount of testing before we release gear to customers. Much of the testing is on a 1950 Grumman Albatross flying boat. We recently landed this flying boat next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach (Calif.) for a trade show. In 2009 we plan to land it on the Thames next to Tower Bridge in London. That's going to be interesting if we get that done and get authorities to agree to it.

Q: What do you hear from travelers and suppliers about your products/services?

People who have been on the system have been very pleased with the speed and solidity of the system. When airlines are testing it, they try very hard to overload it and to cause it to slow down. And they've been pleased with the system.

When we compare ourselves to Connexion, we think in terms of fives. We're approximately one-fifth of the weight of the Connexion systems. Less than one-fifth of the effort to install. And we're five times better in cost per bit. From the public, everybody is hoping for a low price. Row 44 agrees and we can provide low price. (Lower than $10 a day, he says.)

(In satellite connection), it's unavoidable that there'll be a break in connection. But the system is supposed to be robust and pick up where it left off. We're aiming for a system...well above 97% in availability at any time.

Q: What's your biggest gripe when you travel for business?

I'm clearly at the very connected end of the spectrum. Obviously, I want my connectivity to follow me everywhere I go. And airline connectivity is a huge part of that story. Our goal is to use ... technology to expand your faculty so that you can replicate your relationships and connections wherever you are.

Найдено в интернете: http://rssfeeds.usatoday.com/~r/UsatodaycomTravel-TopStories/~3/gpuK6eE6E18/2008-12-29-qa-row44-guidon_N.htm

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