Row 44

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Row 44 is a Westlake Village, California-based company providing in-flight broadband connectivity and wireless inflight entertainment for commercial aircraft around the world. As of October 2012, the company had seven airline customers—Southwest Airlines and Allegiant Air (North America), Norwegian Air Shuttle (Europe), Transaero and UTair Aviation (Russian Federation), Icelandair (Iceland), and Mango Airlines (Africa). Also as of October 2012, the company had deployed its broadband solution on more commercial planes than any other satellite-based connectivity provider.

Row 44’s products and services for airlines include Internet access, live television channels, video-on-demand, destination sales, games, e-commerce, and flight tracking. These are accessible via passengers’ Wi-Fi devices (smart phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) or through a connection to the airline’s existing seatback system. The system is also available as “Video-on-Demand” (VoD) only, without Row 44's satellite connectivity, enabling airlines to offer passengers an onboard selection of video content streamed directly to their WiFi devices. In October 2012, Allegiant Air selected Row 44's wireless Video-on-Demand (VoD) service for its fleet of Boeing 757s, which cover the airline's routes to Hawai'i.

The Row 44 solution also offers mobile phone usage (where permitted) as well as airline operational data services for cockpit and crew and airline operations.

Television channels include CNBC, MSNBC and NBC Sports Network; FOX News Channel and FOX Business Network; BBC World News; and Bloomberg Television. Video-on-Demand providers include Disney, Warner Bros., NBC Universal and Twentieth Century FOX. Additional television and Video-on-Demand content is available worldwide.

By May 2012, the Row 44 in-flight broadband solution had been installed on approximately 265 commercial planes in North America and Europe—approximately 210 Southwest Airlines, approximately 50 Norwegian Air Shuttle aircraft and several of Mango's planes. Installations on Transaero and Icelandair aircraft are expected to begin in late 2012. The company held contracts to install its system on all airlines' respective entire fleets, including more than 540 Southwest Airlines and 100 Norwegian Air Shuttle aircraft.

As of mid-2012, Row 44 had raised approximately $100 million in funding, including a June 2012 financing round of $45 million, led by inflight content experts Advanced Inflight Alliance AG (AIA), with a significant investment as well from Row 44's longtime investor PAR Capital.

Row 44's corporate headquarters are in Westlake Village, California, and the company has engineering and development facilities in Chicago, Illinois, an international business development office in London, United Kingdom, and Web development offices in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Corporate history[edit]

Row 44 got its start in 2003 when Southern California entrepreneur Gregg Fialcowitz identified an opportunity to leverage Hughes' global satellite infrastructure to provide inflight broadband services. Gregg recruited British-born technology entrepreneur John Guidon to join him and together they founded Row 44 in 2004. They secured exclusive North American rights with Hughes as well as the rights to leverage Hughes's satellite infrastructure around the world.

The company's name is derived from Guidon's experience as a college student sitting in row 44 on an aging DC-10 airplane when traveling from the United States[4] the to the UK: “The seats didn’t recline, you were right under the DC-10’s third engine, and next to about six lavatories. I figured, if we can make the flight enjoyable for the folks in Row 44, we’ve accomplished our goal.”[2]

Satellite-based broadband communication uplink[edit]

In contrast to other providers that use ground-based antennas to link the aircraft to their networks, Row 44 leases spectrum from the existing operators of Geostationary Satellites. Such satellite capacity is widely available worldwide in a competitive market.

On August 5, 2009, Row 44 received permanent authority from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate its satellite-based broadband system aboard commercial aircraft over US airspace.[7]

Row 44 maintains licenses in many countries around the world for current operations and expansion.

The System[edit]

Row 44's in-flight broadband solution consists of the following components:

- Ku-band antenna system—mounted atop the aircraft fuselage and encased within a fiberglass, RF-transparent radome.

- Four Line Replaceable Units (LRUs) -- mounted inside the aircraft, typically above the cabin headliner. These LRUs include an Antenna Control Unit (ACU), Modem Data Unit (MDU), Server Management Unit (SMU), and High Power Transceiver (HPT).

- Cabin Wireless LAN Units—mounted throughout the aircraft cabin as needed to provide consistent 802.11 Wi-Fi signal for passenger and crew use.

Row 44's fuselage-top-mounted Ku-band antennas communicate with geostationary satellites, allowing Row 44 to offer uninterrupted in-flight Wi-Fi service over water and on airlines' routes virtually anywhere in the world.

Testing phase[edit]

Southwest Airlines began testing the system aboard several of its planes in February 2009.[8]

In addition to the company's first commercial airline customers, Row 44 also often engages in development and testing of its in-flight Wi-Fi system aboard its own test plane, a 1950s Grumman HU-16 Albatross seaplane.

The company purchased and restored the aircraft in mid-2008. The roomy Albatross, originally designed for the US Air Force for search-and-rescue operations (and later used by the Coast Guard for the same purpose), has the same curvature atop its fuselage as a Boeing 737—making it an ideal aircraft to host Row 44's satellite antenna and radome for testing.

Row 44's Test Plane: The Albatross[edit]

Row 44 outfitted its test seaplane, The Albatross (pictured here), with the identical in-flight broadband entertainment system the company uses for its commercial airline partners.

Image of Row 44's test plane, called The Albatross.png

Row 44’s Albatross was actually used by NASA as part of the training program for Shuttle astronauts. During their training, the astronauts signed one of the cabin walls (pictured here). Although Row 44 completely re-designed the plane’s interior with leather chairs and tables and even a refrigerator, the company did not disturb this piece of Albatross and NASA history.

Photo of an interior cabin wall of Row 44's test plane, The Albtross, showing the signatures from several NASA astronauts.png

Airline deployment announcements[edit]

Norwegian Air Shuttle, the fifth largest low-cost carrier in Europe, announced on April 27, 2009, that it would begin installing Row 44's in-flight broadband on the airline's entire fleet.[16] As of May 2012, Row 44 had installed its broadband solution on more than 45 Norwegian aircraft, and Norwegian was offering in-flight broadband connectivity, powered by Row 44’s system, free to its passengers.

Southwest Airlines announced on August 21, 2009, that the airline had selected Row 44's broadband system for its fleet of more than 540 aircraft. The airline announced it planned to begin equipping its planes with Row 44's system in the first quarter of 2010.[17] As of May 2012, Row 44 had installed its broadband solution on more than 250 Southwest planes, and the airline was offering “Southwest WiFi,” powered by Row 44’s system, at a flat rate of $5 all day per device (including multiple flights the same day) to passengers.

Transaero Airlines, Russia's first private airline, announced in May 2012 that it would equip its fleet of approximately 80 planes with Row 44's broadband solution. This partnership with Transaero—which offers routes throughout Europe, across Asia and into North America and Africa—marked Row 44's first trans-atlantic and trans-aisa customer.

Also in May 2012, South Africa-based Mango Airlines announced its first broadband-equipped flight, using Row 44's system powered by the company's African partner, wireless service provider Wireless G. This flight, which took place May 7, 2012, represented the first commercial flight ever in Africa offering broadband service to passengers. In September 2012, Mango completed installations, having equipped the Row 44-Wireless G WiFi system aboard all of its fleet.

On May 31, 2012, Icelandair, Iceland's main airline, signed a contract with Row 44 to install the company's Wi-Fi service on the airline's entire fleet. Installations are expected to begin by the end of 2012.

In October 2012, Row 44 announced that Allegiant Air had selected Row 44's wireless Video-on-Demand (VoD) service for its fleet of Boeing 757s, which cover the airline's routes to Hawai'i. Allegiant Air became the first airline to select Row 44's VoD solution, which provides onboard entertainment content (movies, television shows, etc.) streamed directly to passengers' own WiFi devices—but which does not require Row 44's full Ku-band satellite system.

In October 2012, Row 44 announced that UTair Aviation, one of Russia's largest airlines, had signed on to begin equipping its aircraft with Row 44's inflight WiFi solution. UTair's partnership for WiFi service with Row 44 includes a customized UTair-branded inflight portal with such passenger WiFi services as high-speed Internet access, bookable destination services, live television channels, video-on-demand, online shopping and real-time flight updates.

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