Evolution in the global in-flight wifi market took another step forward this week with Gogo‘s 2Ku platform. Based on similar technology as the GTO system announced last September, the Gogo 2Ku system promises download speeds up to 70Mbit on the plane using the super-thin antenna from Thinkom. Gogo expects to have the system in trials in 2015.
Similar to GTO there will be one of these satellites dedicated for receiving data on to the plane. Unlike GTO, however, the uplink will also be satellite-based rather than using the legacy air-to-ground network. That means two satellite antennae on the plane rather than one: two bumps on the back of the plane. With Gogo’s proposed solution these two antennae will be held under a single radome: one hump.
The radome is wide (gotta cover those wide antennae) but, thanks to the Thinkom antenna design, very slim. So while the overall antenna structure is heavier than single-transponder solutions the low profile means lower drag and ultimately an efficient operating profile for the airlines. Also, this is not the first time that a solution has involved two antennae under a single radome. The LiveTV Ka-band satellite connectivity and DirecTV antennae are different but live under the same hump on JetBlue and United Airlines planes today. The Gogo version has a lower profile which reduces drag and potential bird strike issues.
Similar to the announcement about the GTO option last September Gogo’s 2Ku solution claims spectral efficiency which comes from using separate send and receive systems. Gogo believes that it will reduce the per-megabyte cost significantly based on getting more data from each satellite thanks to that efficiency. Moreover, that efficiency will extend to new satellites being launched which means the cheaper bandwidth they represent will remain less expensive with the 2Ku (or GTO) systems than traditional single-antenna solutions.
The expansion into the satellite-based connectivity space is not too surprising for Gogo. The carrier has pretty much maxed out what it can do with the North America-based air-to-ground solution. Air Canada signed on to be a customer for the entire North American fleet last week (full deployment expected by the end of 2015) taking the last potential big customer off the market. International carriers are the best chance Gogo has to continue to grow and services like this are a necessity to capture that business. Of course, Gogo is not alone in its effort to capture those customers. Panasonic, ViaSat and LiveTV (among others) are all working to expand coverage, performance and per-byte costs of their satellite solutions as well. And all are signing up customers.
Gogo has JAL coming online as its first Ku-only customer later this year. But JAL is using Panasonic’s eXConnect Ku-based solution for long-haul service today. Delta has signed on to use the Ku-based service from Gogo for its international fleet (installs are ongoing) but that is a single-antenna solution, not the new 2Ku option. Growing in the satellite-based connectivity space is a huge challenge and opportunity for Gogo.
There has been some talk about maturity in the global in-flight connectivity market. We’re far from that point. Things are looking better in many ways but we’re still a few years off from seeing a level of affordable, high-speed service that gets anywhere close to broad deployment on a single airline, much less pervasive in the market. Gogo is taking a different approach than everyone else, which is nice to see. Maybe it is spectacularly successful or maybe not, but it is interesting to see something different come along, disrupting the industry even a little bit. That’s the sort of thing which forces the industry to grow up quickly.
Also, Gogo has some of the best giveaways conferences and AIX was no exception. As is typically the case I’m all about sharing the good stuff. And so I’m giving away one of the Gogo gift bags. It includes a Gogo toiletry kit plus coasters and clock made in the cockpit instrumentation style. Who wants?
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