Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Last week, in-flight Internet service provider Gogo announced plans to upgrade access speeds on its service offered on airlines. Gogo is one of the early providers of in-flight Internet connectivity and has its service installed on more than 2,500 aircraft spanning 12 commercial airlines including American Airlines and Delta. The announcement comes shortly after a legal skirmish with American Airlines, which filed a suit claiming that Gogo's services were not meeting the needs of its customers and that it was considering a switch to rival ViaSat.
To get its faster Internet service off the ground, Gogo has partnered with Gilat Satellite Networks to develop a new generation of modems for planes. Gogo and Gilat plan to develop advanced mobility management features that will be incorporated into the new modem capable of delivering theoretical speeds of 400 Mbps. The new modem is expected to begin flight testing this year, with commercial delivery beginning in 2017.
Gogo plans to add bandwidth by buying more capacity on geostationary satellites from Intelsat. Geostationary satellites orbit about 36,000 km above the earth, with signals taking around a quarter of a second to make the trip from airplane to satellite and down to the ground station. Gogo also expects to reduce latency by using low-earth-orbit satellites being developed by OneWeb. OneWeb's satellites will orbit at around 1,200 km above the earth, meaning signals from a plane will bounce back to earth in about 10 milliseconds. OneWeb plans to launch these satellites in 2018.
When Gogo introduced its in-flight Internet service in 2008, there were very few takers given the pricing. Now, with more passengers demanding non-stop connectivity, Gogo is trying to catch up to meet demand. The company needs to upgrade its service rapidly as it competes against ViaSat, Panasonic, Global Eagle Entertainment and others. Airlines — and their passengers — are demanding faster Wi-Fi. As carriers on the ground are developing next-generation services, connectivity in the sky is also moving up to a new level.