Gogo’s Got China

Passengers on a Gogo-equipped aircraft flying over China will soon remain connected. The in-flight connectivity company, in conjunction with China Telecom Satellite, received approval from the Chinese government to keep aircraft connected when flying in and out of China; service should be operational by October according to the statement.

The license is a renewable trial license with a one with a one-year expiration, similar to the one being used by Panasonic Avionics to serve that company’s customers in the region. It allows for specific airlines and aircraft to operate the connectivity hardware but is not blanket permission. And, notably, it does not apply to airlines based in China. Today that means Gogo’s license applies to Delta Air Lines’ Ku-band connected aircraft but this same license will not apply to the Hainan Airlines and Beijing Capital Airlines planes expected to have 2Ku installed in the near future. Going forward other foreign carriers will be able to use the license, meaning British Airways or Air Canada would also potentially be covered when it gets 2Ku installed.

This also means that there is real competition in the market covering China now. Having multiple providers able to offer service in an area generally means better and cheaper offerings. Whether that translate to passengers buy in-flight wifi in this context is hard to predict, especially as there are questions about total capacity available in the region and availability of satellite transponders in the region to grow that connectivity base.

As for converting from a trial license to something more permanent, well, that mostly depends on the Chinese government. Vendors and airlines are keen to reach that point but the government is not quite ready to give that approval. Rumor has it we’re at a “never been closer” sort of status and the paperwork could come at any moment. Or never. Historically the licenses issued by China have been specific to individual aircraft and airlines, not blanket coverage. There are some indications that policy is shifting and so long as the trial licenses are renewed (and PAC’s was) this is less an issue for passengers and more a challenge for the airlines and systems operators.

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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.


  1. Is browsing Beijing-sanctioned material (like 1989 TSq or Tibet etc) be allowed over China air space ?

  2. Did they discuss any terms? China has some data policies in place where companies must provide details to the government for some Internet-related activities. While usage in the air would most likely not be going through Chinese-owned infrastructure, I’m interested to know if they made any sort of requirements to get the licenses.

    1. The terms are not detailed and I know about the requirements on the ground for what happens with infrastructure. My understanding (though I’m not 100% certain) is that when flying over China non-Chinese carriers are treated as though they are in China and traffic passes through a teleport on the ground in China, and presumable the Great Firewall from there. For China-flagged airlines all traffic for the duration of the flight must be routed back so that it passes through that same infrastructure, even if the satellite teleport is elsewhere.

      Some pretty impressive network engineering involved to make it all happen.

    2. I suppose that introduces all sorts of wildass latency but it may not make that much of a real difference given the nature of satellite-based connectivity in the first place.

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