Gogo 2Ku Trip Report


Recently, IFExpress visited Gogo offices and flight tested the new 2Ku Services – we offer our trip report to our readers!

Gogo Offices – Downtown Chicago

On 11/12/15 we proceeded to Chicago as a result of an invitation from Gogo to flight test their new 2Ku airborne connectivity system. Installed on a B737, the system is only one of the three predominant connectivity platforms developed and operated by Gogo. Two are the existing air-to-ground, lower speed data systems available today – Gogo ATG and ATG4. The new 2Ku system operates on data transmitted from the ground to satellites and then (in a test mode) down to a B737 platform which operates out of Gary, Indiana International airport.

After a tour of their new facilities in the downtown Chicago Loop (next to Boeing), where some of the hardware was displayed, we listened to a presentation by their customer care manager. He told us that 79% of their usage questions were for chat messaging, 10% was for calls (business jets), and 11% was for email issues. We don’t know how this was measured – based on digital data bits, time, or measurements of the indicated usage, but “Clearly,” they noted, “the growth trend is toward digital chatting!” And we agree – SMS and text messaging are the future.

Further, Gogo noted that their Chat Help was a very useful solution to customers who need help on the plane, and it is done via their (the pax) devices without logging on to the service on the plane. Here is a breakdown of their chat help subject issues – 53% logging on, 8% billing and subscriptions, 13% video issues, 13% dropped calls, and 3% general. They noted that they use customers contact data daily to analyze the Gogo product/service. This capability to chat with the Gogo help personnel (located in Boulder, Colorado) will be utilized on all products – ATG, ATG 4, and 2Ku. They even have a feature wherein a customer and a helper can co-browse (with the customers permission) and walk them thru a customer screen. Further, they can even take over their device for assistance in the most challenging cases.

In Engineering, we saw an elegant noise free area for simulation installation inside a theoretical aircraft. They will use this facility for mostly 2Ku installations now. The primary software room was for in system testing and integration… there were some 10 rows of floor to ceiling cabinets with all types of hardware that were under test, all with various loads of software – quite impressive. Interestingly, there is very little encryption on all ground to aircraft communication but we believe that is under evaluation at this time. Gogo told us that they have a proprietary data communication but not at the level one would see in the DOD.

We were surprised that Gogo builds virtually no equipment – they spec it out. What they do is software, and a lot of it. We don’t have time here to cover that subject but the network solution, along with the hardware, is software… and Gogo is quite proud of it.

The Network Operation Center (NOC) was very impressive. Basically Gogo monitors every airplane and keeps track of any issue that could impact their operations. Further, they can communicate with each flying system to ascertain how their product is performing. Some 20 large screens and people work 24/7 to monitor their products – very impressive. The center monitors worldwide aircraft – commercial or business installations. This solution is really done right and nothing is left out…. even tracking outages. We really wonder why they weren’t presently offering an aircraft data download solution . When asked, they replied that that is the next market they will be pursuing and IFExpress will begin watching that potential product with them next. We should also mention that they monitor all their ground sites there as well.

However, we did note that they have introduced some real time product purchasing in their service with the likes of Amazon and others. It remains to be seen how successful this effort will be but the service is available on some airlines today. We were surprised that Monday and Thursday were the “active” day for higher sale traffic. However, this may have to do with the business community’s travel schedule.

Gogo told us that today they have some 246 ground installations (for ATG and ATG4 – 800 to 900 MHz range). Gogo started operations with 96 of these ground based antenna sites and are continually adding more to their network. They do not foresee dropping sites either, and if internal aircraft network or system status data ever takes off, they will have a lot of applicability as the data will probably be more resident in the slower speed service. Further as aircraft get more high speed communication links, it might be a good home for data reception, aggregation and forwarding. And as you might guess, data to the aircraft probably exceeds data from it, so that may be another case in point for obtaining aircraft performance data like engine parameters and history, fuel levels, battery and power data and so on for the future. Face it, any data communication service, to and from the aircraft, has a future and the Gogo’s existing system is an obvious home. Expect to hear more about this feature in the future.

Aircraft Communication Testing

Next we went to the airport and walked out to the Boeing 737 at the small Gary Indiana International Airport. The dual circular panel ThinKom Ku antenna is flat and consists of two flat plane antennas, electronically steered… all under a radome (behind of the wings) on the top of the plane. On the test aircraft, the antenna can be seen.

Inside the aircraft, it is configured as one would expect a demonstrator might be. Five rows of Business class seats 2 x 2 for front visitors and approximately 30 coach seats for other visitors in the back, Gogo employees, and vendors. Our flight had mainly press attendees occupying approximately some 20 visitor seats. Four Gogo folks were in attendance to help Wi-Fi users and demo Gogo broadcast streaming TV. The tests were provided to some 40 reporters and camera persons… on 2 flight trials – one in the morning for 20 and one in the afternoon for the rest.

Once in flight (and it was a very turbulent flight), we began the trial of the service. The system did not feature any setups or complicated directions – just load the “gogoinflight” password in your Wi-Fi permissions and the system was ready for browsers, Facebook, chat or whatever app, and “game on”!

Realistically, we expected setup issues but there were none. Important to note, each member of the press had a minimum of 2 devices running all the time, while some had three. In fact, one individual had 8 YouTube videos running simultaneously.

During testing we ran Speedtest to see system loading and saw extremes form 1 to 20 Gigabits per second Internet speeds. Perhaps the average was around 5 to 6 GB/sec. connectivity speeds. If we assume 50 to 60 devices were running simultaneously, total available speeds were excellent.

To sum up the experience – “Time went so fast flying with Wi-Fi, bad weather was not an issue and we were disappointed to land so soon!”

Rockwell Collins debuted PAVES seat-centric in-flight entertainment (IFE) system has entered into service on a new Next-Generation Boeing 737-800 delivered to Biman Bangladesh Airlines. The company’s advanced large-screen, high-definition (HD) IFE system is featured in both business and economy classes. With PAVES, airlines are able to develop their own look and experience for passengers as well as efficiently manage non-DRM content via Rockwell Collins’ graphical user interface (GUI) developer kit through a web portal management tool. Further, the system features an open-software architecture to support customized and third-party applications with minimal effort. (IFExpress notes that this was an in-sequence installation at the Boeing Renton, WA. facility.)

Next year, there may be a way for folks in the know to address IFExpress readers. Technical, IFE industry views and visions are all a possibility and we just might feature your thoughts and words – Stay Tuned!

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