Alaska’s Adding Speedy Wi-Fi to All Airbus and Boeing Planes

Aug 22, 2017

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Want high-speed satellite Wi-Fi when flying Alaska Airlines? Come 2020, you’ll be guaranteed to have it. On Tuesday, the carrier shared plans to equip its entire fleet with Gogo’s much-improved 2Ku satellite Wi-Fi, which the carrier quotes as offering “20 times more bandwidth than Gogo’s air-to-ground (ATG) product.” So if you’re used to using the Gogo internet available on most planes today, this new variety will represent a huge step up.

Just how fast is 2Ku? Well, I had an opportunity to put it to the test on a Gogo test flight last year, and it worked well enough to accomplish just about any task I’d expect to on the ground, including streaming HD video. My “Delta Silent Disco” flight was also 2Ku equipped, which was fairly speedy despite the number of passengers sharing pictures and video on social media. The Wi-Fi even worked as we taxied for takeoff, which simply isn’t possible with ATG, which uses antennas mounted on the plane’s belly to communicate with towers on the ground — 2Ku, by comparison, uses satellite antennas on the top of the plane, so theoretically an aircraft can maintain its connection from gate to gate.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 3.54.29 PM
Gogo 2Ku offers global coverage.

Currently, Alaska’s 737s and Embraer 175s offer Gogo’s older (sluggish) Wi-Fi, which, due to its design, only works when flying over North America, including the corridor to and from Alaska’s namesake state. 2Ku, meanwhile, covers all of the carrier’s routes, making it possible to offer Wi-Fi service on flights to Hawaii, Mexico and beyond.

So what does this mean for Virgin America’s ViaSat experiment? While I’m a big fan of ViaSat Wi-Fi — which successfully powers JetBlue’s entire fleet, for example — unfortunately that provider’s product just won’t work for Alaska Airlines, since service isn’t available on all of the carrier’s routes, including those to and from the state of Alaska. As a result, Virgin’s A320s will be getting Gogo’s solution, instead. Alaska regional jets will continue to offer older ATG service.

While pricing hasn’t been announced — and varies by flight — Delta currently charges $16 for a prepaid Gogo day pass with 24 hours of access, so I imagine Alaska’s version shouldn’t end up costing an arm and a leg. As for when to expect 2Ku service to launch, Alaska will begin installing satellite Wi-Fi on its 737s early next year, with at least 40 planes expected to go online by the end of 2018. All mainline aircraft will offer 2Ku by early 2020.

Have you tried Gogo’s 2Ku Wi-Fi?

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