Messaging and the dark side of the moon

* Row 44 looking to provide broadband communication services to airline passengers

Back in the days of manned missions to the moon, astronauts would be out of communication with Houston for several minutes as they passed behind the moon. Aside from the beverage service, flying is a bit like that experience, at least from a messaging perspective. For those of us who rely heavily on e-mail to do business and stay in touch, not having access to e-mail while on a flight means a drop in productivity, delays in responding to clients and other problems.

Although there has been some promising potential for being able to use messaging while in-flight, there has been relatively little movement in this area since the several trials that have taken place over the past few years. However, a newer company, Row 44, has big plans for providing broadband communication services to airline passengers.

The company’s plan is to provide both entertainment services, such as more than 100 channels of live television; as well as 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connectivity for those with appropriately configured laptops, smartphones, BlackBerry devices, etc. Communication speeds for the downlink will be 81Mbps, while the uplink will be 1.6Mbps, allowing even instant messaging conversations to take place with very little latency. In addition to passenger-oriented services, the system can also be used for private airline communications, cabin surveillance, electronic logbooks, cargo bay monitoring and other services.

The HughesNet satellites used in the system connect with the aircraft via a radome mounted on the top of the aircraft. The 130-pound system, which can be deployed on a wide range of aircraft types, takes only a couple of evenings to install so it can be completed during normal aircraft downtime. Initially, three Hughes satellites will cover all of North America, but transatlantic service will be following initial deployment of the system.

Trials of the system are set to begin shortly. Data service prices are expected to be under $10 per flight.

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