Row 44 opted to utilise the Ku-band satellite network when Southwest Airlines began trialing the system in 2009 as rival Gogo opted to debut with an air-to-ground infrastructure that uses wireless signals from celluar towers. But Gogo has embraced both Ku and Ka-band satellites, and plans to partner with Inmarsat to use its Ka-band Global Xpress network set to debut in 2014 to expand its global coverage.
Plans are also underway at Row 44 to use its fair share of Ka, even as CEO John LaValle believes the technology is “still a bit off into the future”. But the company has a plan to embrace Ka, says LaValle. “We have a complete roadmap for customers that are completely interested in that as a sole solution. We’re already spending engineering resources against that roadmap, and when the time comes we’ll be positioned to offer that service for our customers that need it, and for any new customers.”
LaValle points out that Row 44’s Ku-band satellite provider and company shareholder Hughes has Ka capacity, and “that is where we would start” with respect to sourcing Ka.
“We’re pretty far along in our development in that regard [Ka] for both the antenna we would use, and the agreements we would have in place,” says LaValle. But he does not envision Row 44 offering a Ka solution for “at least a year or a year-and-a-half minimum”.
LaValle explains he does not believe Row 44 would ever be in a position “where we’ll be 100% Ku or 100% Ka, we’ll always at some point have some type of hybrid model to offer. That is my vision, actually”.
Row 44 is very “mindful of what the attributes of Ka are”, says LaValle. But he is not convinced that proclamations of Ka being cheaper have been proven out. “We just don’t know yet. We’ve heard plenty of talk in that way, but it is always easier to say what the costs is going to be when it is not readily available.”