Part 1: Gogo Looks Ahead

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Let me start this piece by relating a flight experience I had recently. During the four hour trip from Seattle to Chicago, I had no Internet on the outbound leg of the journey; however, I had the luxury of Gogo wireless Internet on the return. I say luxury because the return leg was free and if I had paid for the experience, it would have only cost $13, the same price as the abysmal “Fruit & Cheese” plate I purchased to compensate for the free Internet. Further let me add, that the ability to get my email and do a bit of surfing on the ‘return’ leg was so much better than I ever anticipated. In fact, with Internet and email access the Chicago to Seattle flight felt like it took half the time of the outbound leg… and, believe me, that had nothing to do with the fruit and cheese plate! The message here is, we spend so much time on the ground with our Internet/communication fetish, when we have it in the air one doesn’t spend as much time wondering, “Are we there yet?!” (Note: Setup can be a bit fussy as the data entry in the beginning of the sign-on was necessary so the next time we will get the App before the flight.)

So much for the sales pitch, but here’s the message: If you seldom travel, buy your inflight Internet from Gogo or whomever, because it makes the time fly. And for under $20 for the connection, or whatever it costs for the privilege, it’s a bargain. If you want 1 hour on Gogo, it’s $5, one day is $8 ($16 if you fly on the different airlines), and I believe for around $60 one can get a month’s worth of the experience ($50 if you only select one airline). Thus, it is a must for frequent fliers… a must!

The issue at hand in this IFExpress is the future of Gogo, more specifically, the future of the speed (or bandwidth) of Gogo, and there are at least two reasons for writing about it: 1) As flights get more filled with Internet traffickers, the fixed aircraft data Internet speeds will inevitably result in congestion, slowing the experience. That’s simple electromagnetics, and 2) Recent announcements by AT&T, who plans to bring some version of LTE to the air, may also bring a lot of competition to Gogo in the USA. Prices may drop (especially if AT&T uses their 4G LTE solution) but, don’t expect Gogo to be asleep at the switch. From a price perspective, most probably, their prices will drop as competition builds up. When prices drop, there will be more users, and so on… time will tell. Internationally, there are competitors like Row 44, Panasonic, Thales, Inmarsat derivatives, etc., and we should not forget their impact on competitive connectivity.

Today, Gogo customers include: Air Canada, AirTran, Alaska, American, Delta, United, US Airways, and Virgin America for a total of over 2,000 US aircraft. Gogo’s Text & Talk application will serve as an extension of a GSM or CDMA cellular network, without the need to install picocells on planes. In the US, it presently is only a text feature, but lest we forget, in the early 90’s, we could talk on a plane… today’s seating jumble will probably prevent that feature unless an airline’s business or first class finds it more appealing. The aforementioned features enable any smart phone user to roam onto Gogo’s in-flight Wi-Fi system as if they were roaming onto a land-based cellular network where they can continue to access their messaging and phone services anywhere a Gogo equipped aircraft flies.

From a historical perspective, the technology and the market have grown and will continue to as far as we can see. Boeing’s Current Market Outlook claims that there are some 20,310 Regional, Medium and Large jets in the worldwide fleet so this means that there is plenty of room to grow connectivity applications. What’s interesting is the single aisle airplane demand and if the connectivity folks figure out a business model for the next 20 years, they will be looking at some 34,000 airplanes… and in 20 years, a lot can happen in this industry. Because of the size of most smaller jet aircraft (100 seats or less) big satcom antennas for improved data rates are a physical challenge for on-top installation – next week we will show a potential solution for that crowd as well!

At a recent Gogo press event (the driver of this work), the company laid out the technology plans for the next few years. It included a big push into international growth and a very technical plan for the technology that will drive their improved coverage and data performance. One of the key issues is the antenna developments that are coming along. We should note that the image used in this week’s issue of IFExpress, is the installation of the ATG antenna on the underside of a customer jet. Because the Air-To-Ground system in the USA beams signals below the plane, the antenna is obviously placed there. The satcom solutions will require antennas (beams and plates) on the top of the plane. We should point out that at this time, Gogo does not manufacture most of the boxes and antennas found on their equipped aircraft – they sub them out to companies who specialize in that business. To that end, Gogo should be considered a system service provider as they spec and assemble the hardware needed for each task. Additionally, the engineering team that we met were top notch people. They answered every question we asked and really seemed intent on providing airlines and travelers with the best solution. Since we are talking about antennas, here is a teaser of next week’s discussion of the Gogo solution for speed and coverage upgrades: ATG, ATG-4, Ku-band, 2Ku, Ka-band (GXA), and GTO (Ground-To -Orbit). Stay Tuned!

Editors Notes:
One of the important players in Gogo’s past was Jack Blumenstein who passed away in 2012. You can read more about his impact on the industry.

The Gogo website is one of the best we haves seen for information about their services – you might check out the following features:

If you are interested in an infographic that depicts some of the important Gogo info from the last 5 years, check it out.

TIP: Check out concourse.gogoair.com for some of the more interesting aspects of their business not to mention the history of Gogo. It’s worth a look!

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