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Gogo announced this week that it has received a Supplemental Type Certificate from the FAA — the final requirement needed to launch its next-generation 2Ku satellite connectivity service. That means this faster in-flight Wi-Fi, which Gogo originally announced last April and has already installed on a 737-500 test plane, is now cleared for in-flight testing and is expected to launch commercially by the end of 2015 on flights within the US and Canada.
Gogo’s chief technology officer, Anand Chari, noted that clearing the regulatory hurdle brought the company closer to enabling its airline partners and passengers to the next generation of in-flight internet: “This is a significant milestone for Gogo and a seminal event for in-flight Internet. We believe this will be the best-performing technology for the global commercial aviation market bar none.”
Gogo presently provides in-flight Wi-Fi service for Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, United and Virgin America, with service currently installed on almost 2,400 commercial aircraft. These commercial airlines have all signed up for a trial of the new service or fleet deployment on over 500 aircraft; Delta alone has placed an order for installation on 250 narrow-body aircraft, which Gogo expects to begin in 2016.
The service is said to deliver peak speeds of over 70 Mbps to the aircraft to begin with – more than 20 times the bandwidth of Gogo’s first-generation air-to-ground internet service (though its current service is about 9.8 Mbps) — and will eventually reach 100 Mbps. The 2Ku service requires two low-profile, high-efficiency Ku-band satellite antennas that are twice as spectrally efficient as other aviation antennas, and provide more bandwidth at less cost.
These antennas (which are only 4.5 inches tall so as not to generate drag on the aircraft) should also deliver more consistent service, especially in the often-inconsistent tropics, because they can be used with any Ku-satellite and avoid the pitfalls of relying on a single satellite or connectivity in a specific region. This also means that instead of just being available in North America, Gogo service should eventually become available around the world.
The current high-speed champ is JetBlue’s high-speed Fly-fi service, which the airline claims delivers 12 Mbps of bandwidth per user. Boeing’s 73NG jets have been among the first equipped with the Hughes HX satellite communications Row 44 service, which offers 1-5 Mbps download speeds per user, but glacial upload speeds of about 44 kbps. That means while 2Ku’s 70 Mbps is delivered to the aircraft as a whole, it’s still expected to be faster than competitors … at least for now. (For more info, check out our guide to high-speed in-flight Wi-Fi.)
Although more airlines are offering in-flight Wi-Fi on a wider array of aircraft, the service still tends to be unreliable and not exactly high-speed. While the increased availability of such services has made flying time more productive for millions of passengers, the fact that you can’t tell in advance whether or not you’ll have reliable Wi-Fi on your flight is a huge limitation for some.
This announcement and a speedy roll-out of the new service could inject a little competition back into the in-flight Wi-Fi sector. Hopefully, we’ll start seeing higher speeds, greater reliability and better coverage not only in North America, but also across the globe.
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