Southwest Airlines said today that it will begin a fleetwide rollout of its in-flight Wi-Fi service in the first quarter of 2010, putting it on track to be the first major airline to offer broadband access in all of its planes. The service, in partnership with Row 44, has been in the testing stage for the past year; it provides roughly 30 Mbps of bandwidth to a plane via Ku band satellites (and can theoretically make your cell phone work, too!).
Alaska Airlines is also using Row 44’s in-flight Wi-Fi, which competes with Aircell’s air-to-ground based service, called gogo. Southwest is still working on final pricing and said it will “continue testing price points through the end of 2009.” Currently, it costs between $2 and $12 per flight, depending on the distance of the flight and the type of device used to connect. Presumably this means iPod Touch and MacBook Pro users pay different prices. According to market research firm In-Stat, by 2012, in-flight broadband will be a billion-dollar-a-year business. Southwest operates some 3,200 flights per day on its more than 500 Boeing 737 aircraft.