Southwest, American Test Inflight Wi-Fi

Mile-high Wi-Fi is taking off.

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines separately announced this week that their planes will be tested for in-flight passenger Wi-Fi data access using different access technologies.

Southwest announced Wednesday that it will test satellite-delivered broadband Internet access on four aircraft this summer, the airline said in a statement.

Southwest passengers with Wi-Fi-enabled devices would have Internet access for e-mail and Web browsing after the tests and subject to approval by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The technology to be used aboard Southwest planes is from Row 44 Inc. in Westlake Village, Calif. In addition to data, it will support cell phone and voice-over-IP calls.

But "Southwest has not embraced voice calling" because of passengers' concerns about cell phone calls made during flights, spokeswoman Brandy King said in an interview. "Voice is not a direction we're taking."

On Tuesday American Airlines said it had finished the first aircraft installation of an Internet broadband connection aboard a Boeing 767-200 aircraft and will install and test the technology on all 15 such aircraft throughout the year. The 767-200s are used primarily for transcontinental flights.

Both airlines need certifications from the FAA before launching an actual service. American is using technology from Aircell LLC in Itasca, Ill.

Passengers on American aircraft will get full data service, but will not receive cell or VoIP service.

Aircell provides an air-to-ground system that uses three lightweight antennas installed on the outside of the aircraft, one GPS antenna mounted on top of the plane and the other two on the bottom. Wireless access points are distributed throughout the aircraft interior's ceiling. Each American aircraft will be connected to a network of 92 cell towers in the continental U.S. using a 3Mhz signal, the airline said.

The satellite-delivered system for Southwest's planes from Row 44 involves installation of an antenna atop each plane's fuselage that communicates with satellite networks, according to the company's Web site.

Aircell announced plans in September to equip Virgin America planes with Wi-Fi access this year. JetBlue Airways, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Qantas Airways Ltd. have also announced in-flight Wi-Fi in various forms.

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