Getting Giddy about Gogo GTO

Great news out of Chicago this week: Gogo has received certification from the FAA to operate its 737-500 test aircraft with a new antenna on top. That might not seem like a huge deal but it is the first (of many) steps towards getting the company’s Ground to Orbit (“GTO”) product flying which should mean much faster data speeds for passengers on board. There is, of course, the very real chance that GTO will never really fly on any commercial planes but that’s OK because it would mean that Gogo has the 2Ku product, using two satellite links rather than one satellite and one terrestrial link, working instead and that would be similarly good news for travelers. It also requires a separate testing certificate from the FAA so at least the first several weeks of testing will be with the GTO configuration. Gogo expects to have that certification shortly and will add the second antenna to “Jimmy Ray” (that’s the name of the test plane) once the cert is received.

Gogo's 737-500 test plane with the little hump in the back to support GTO and, eventually, 2Ku service
Gogo’s 737-500 test plane “Jimmy Ray” with the little hump in the back to support GTO and, eventually, 2Ku service

As for when it might be on a commercial aircraft, I’ve not heard anything official from the company but if the technology all works as it should either GTO or 2Ku could be on planes by the end of the year. That’s an aggressive timeline given the FAA requirements and sufficient testing to make sure it really, really works on the planes before they go out and start selling the kit, but it is possible. The company has already performed tests with the antenna setup, showing impressive 60Mbit data transfer rates. That still needs to be converted to a reliable airborne system, but the initial numbers are promising.

Beyond just the high speeds promised there are other reasons to be excited by this next phase in the evolution of the in-flight connectivity market. It represents a significant change in the way companies have traditionally looked at connectivity, using multiple data streams and newer technologies in the antennae. There are potentially significant benefits for travel in and through equatorial regions thanks to the Thinkom antenna design and its reduced skew angle issues, for example. Or the expected throughput improvements based on spectral efficiencies, essentially getting more bandwidth from the same “chunk” of radio frequencies on the same satellite versus competitors.

Read More: Gogo’s GTO connectivity to fly first as FAA greenlights testing

Being able to stream content from the cloud to individual users should become viable and maybe even affordable, for example. Or just having enough bandwidth to let 100+ passengers on a transcon flight all perform basic browsing without constantly fighting for a bit of the pipe. And because it uses Ku-band satellite connections that means coverage on nearly all commercial air routes from day one, though there are some concerns about total capacity to support high speed connections on full fleets initially.

All of it adds up to a better in flight experience for passengers. And also some very cool technological improvements in the industry. That that really does have me feeling a bit giddy about the whole situation.


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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.