If Row44 and Southwest have anything to say about it then a free in-flight internet option might be coming to the carrier’s fleet-wide deployment of the Row44 system. The biggest hurdle to adoption for the service has been cost. People love it when it is free but as soon as a cost factor comes into play the adoption numbers drop off in a hurry. Indeed, Aircell, provider of the gogo service that is currently on several airlines’ planes, is laying off employees and seems somewhat desperate for revenue right now. So the announcements from Southwest and Alaska Airlines that they are looking at fleet-wide deployments of the Row44 product, while not particularly surprising, also raised the issue of whether they could effectively monetize the product and if the internet providers would be able to stay in business.
Word in advance of the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) conference scheduled for next week has Row44 planning a major announcement: they’ve got a system that “enables airlines to monetize in-flight broadband even among passengers who do not pay for full Internet access.” That means ad-supported web browsing for those of you who don’t understand marketing-speak. They are apparently going to be announcing content and advertising partners at the conference in addition to the other details of the product.
This is HUGE. No one really likes ad-supported internet service, but it is WAY better than $10-13/flight. Plus Southwest can continue their “no fees” claims (though those are specious these days with the early check-in thing) while still providing a full in-flight connectivity option. Certainly there are a lot of details left to be uncovered and the news from the conference next week will be quite interesting to hear. If there is an ad-supported model that isn’t terribly intrusive and that is sufficient to support the providers and the carriers that would be phenomenal. I’m not so sure that the numbers will be sufficient, but it is definitely nice to see someone trying something different.
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