Travelling to the US for this week’s Apex Expo gave “Get Connected’s” Steve Nichols an ideal opportunity to test Gogo’s North American ATG inflight connectivity network.
The system uses a network of land-based radio towers and antennas mounted on the underside of the aircraft. In November 2012 Gogo launched another enhancement when it announced its next-generation connectivity technology ATG-4 network, offering faster speeds of up to 10Mbps to the aircraft.
The system tested was fitted aboard a Delta Boeing 757-300 on the route between Detroit (DTW) and Los Angeles (LAX).
Gogo could be used once the flight had reached cruising height and the seat belt signs had been switched off. Although the aircraft’s blue “Wi-Fi” sign was illuminated while on the ground and during take-off no network was available.
Once in flight it was very easy to select the “gogoinflight” Wi-Fi network and launch a browser via my iPad. A splash screen then appeared asking you how you want to pay.
The options were one hour for $10, two for $20 (but you did get an extra hour free) or an all-day pass for $26.95.
There was also a range of other Delta/Gogo passes, including a 24-hour, monthly and annual, the latter costing $479.95.
If you didn’t want to pay there was complimentary access to gilt.com, Gilt City, and other sites including Delta’s own info portal and Gogo’s “Concourse”. There was a warning that high bandwidth streaming video applications like Netflix wouldn’t be available, but I was surprised to see that the network did support YouTube – and without buffering too.
Movies and TV shows were also available via Delta’s “Studio” service (this is basically Gogo Vision rebranded), but note that you must use the Safari browser on iOS devices, not Chrome (which can still be used for web browsing).
Switching to Safari, I found that Studio launched easily, offering content broken down by genre and/or duration – useful if you want to make sure you have enough time to complete what you are watching. You will need to download a player app from the Apple web store, but this can be done inflight – it took me three minutes.
Some content, such as “Rio” was free, but later blockbusters like “Gravity” and “Rush” were $6 each. This content is streamed from an onboard server.
Playback was smooth, high quality and very easy to control via the Gogo movie plug-in and Safari.
Email usage via my mail client software was brisk and workmanlike, and basic web browsing was also snappy. This was certainly faster than the average hotel net connection and felt more like an office or home broadband connection.
So just how fast was it? I was unable to use my usual iPad speed testing app, probably because the network blocked it. But an online speed testing site was more successful. Getting an accurate speed result was hard as each time the test was run a different result was obtained.
This isn’t really surprising given the dynamic nature of the ATG connection. However, over four speed tests the fastest download speed seen was in excess of 20Mbps and the slowest was 4.8Mbps. Half an hour later and this had dropped below 1Mbps for a short period.
An average of at least 5-10Mbps was usually achievable across the entire flight, although it did vary dramatically.
Upload speeds were somewhat slower reflecting the asymmetric nature of the connection. The average upload was about 0.1Mbps – fine for emails, but a little painful for large file transfers.
Speaking with Gogo at Apex, they said that speed testing utilities are notoriously unreliable and can give spurious results – the 20Mb speed being one as ATG4 is rated at 10Mbps.
In all though, the Gogo connection was reliable and speedy. This story and image were then posted to the site while in the air – the only problems being content management/iPad related, not Gogo-related!