Focus: Gogo has global aspirations for inflight WiFi connectivity

Connectivity provider Gogo is busy throwing off its North American-only image and stretching out further across the globe.

Gogo President and CEO Michael Small.
Gogo President and CEO Michael Small.

Gogo president and CEO Michael Small told “Get Connected” that it was keen to develop its air transport business on all platforms – L, Ku and, in future, Ka band (it is an Inmarsat GX Aviation partner, which will see its three satellite network and terminal infrastructure fully rolled out by Q1 2016).

Gogo’s Ku-band business is growing fast too, thanks to its innovative 2Ku antenna system, which was launched at AIX Hamburg in May 2013.

In February 2015 it announced that Delta Air Lines had selected Gogo to outfit its narrow-body aircraft serving long-haul domestic, Latin American and Caribbean routes with 2Ku technology.

And in June it said that it is to bring 2Ku in-flight connectivity services to GOL, the largest low-cost airline in Latin America.

This means GOL will be the first Brazilian airline to offer broadband inflight internet access to its passengers.

But where has Gogo come from?

Gogo's "2Ku" dual Ku-band antenna promises up to 70mbps downlinks.
Gogo’s “2Ku” dual Ku-band antenna promises up to 70mbps downlinks.

The company forged a good reputation with its air-to-ground (ATG) service over the mainland US. This famously started after a barbecue in Texas in 1991, when company founder Jimmy Ray first sketched on a paper napkin his visionary idea for an affordable telephone system for private aircraft.

Gogo began as Aircell, providing analog-based voice communications on private aircraft in North America via a unique partnership with cellular providers.

By the late 1990s, it was also offering a satellite-based system for voice communication on overseas flights.

And in 2006 it was awarded the FCC’s exclusive Air-To-Ground (ATG) 3MHz broadband frequency license. This brought the challenges of designing, patenting, and deploying an uninterrupted network of ATG transmitters across the US.

The company worked hard and fast and in just two years’ time, in 2008, Gogo made its debut on commercial aircraft, bringing inflight WiFi internet access to the skies.

It now has more than 2,100 commercial and 6,600 business aircraft equipped with its services across its ATG and satellite technology platforms, claiming that it is far and away the world leader in in-flight connectivity and a pioneer in in-flight entertainment.

If you ever use Gogo’s ATG service in the US you can’t really fail to be impressed. Any Wi-Fi enabled device will work and the cost is kept down to $16 for an all-day pass or $59.95 for the month. At times, passengers can even try the service for free – those flying on Delta and Virgin America have been given free access to Ebay at times, allowing them to bid on items on the famous online auction site at 30,000 feet.

Gogo’s in-flight connectivity partners now include Aeromexico, American Airlines, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Japan Airlines, United Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic.

In November 2012 there was another enhancement too when the company announced that it had launched its next-generation connectivity technology ATG-4 on three airlines – Delta, US Airways and Virgin America.

Gogo’s ATG-4 technology is capable of delivering a peak speed of 9.8 Mbps, triple the peak speed of 3.1 Mbps enabled by the previous air-to-ground network.

So with Gogo throwing off its American-only image, what is it doing to cast its inflight connectivity net further?

Niels Steenstrup, Gogo’s SVP, International Sales, says: “In addition to the Americas, we now have sales teams in the UK (covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa), Singapore, and Hawaii (covering Asia Pacific).

“Gogo is now a global business and we are going to keep on building those teams.”

Gogo has also set up a 24/7 global customer care team in the US. It is also rolling out enhancements to its service to offer more than just phone, internet and email.

Gogo is also a provider of in-air global satellite connectivity solutions for business aviation through its subsidiary Gogo Business Aviation (formerly Aircell), with more than 6,600 aircraft in service.

It has been adding a number of services enhancements too.

John Wade, Gogo’s Executive Vice President and General Manager
John Wade, Gogo’s Executive Vice President and General Manager

For example, Gogo Vision allows passengers to watch a movie on their own Wi-Fi-enabled tablet or laptop.

In January 2015 it said Gogo Vision is now installed on more than 1,700 commercial aircraft across six major airlines.

And its new “Text and Voice” service allows passengers to make and receive voice calls, plus send receive text messages, using their own mobile phone.

The difference is that passengers will use the aircraft’s Gogo Wi-Fi service, not an onboard cellular picocell. This has weight savings for the airline in terms of equipment and gets around potential certification issues.

Once running they can then send text messages or make calls, which will appear to the end user to be coming from the sender’s number. Likewise, people can call or send SMS messages to the passenger using their usual number – they will be delivered as normal.

Michael Small added: “At the end of the day we are going to give airlines the choice between Ku and Ka. While the technologies seem different right now, in the long run the same technology will be applied on both bands.”

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