Gogo pushes forward on next-gen ATG; 100Mbit ahead

Unlicensed spectrum and a new antenna (previously reported on RGN Premium) are key as Gogo looks to improve its air-to-ground (ATG) network capacity and performance. The new offering is expected to support speeds of up to 100 megabits/second to each aircraft and allow for streaming media content and other high bandwidth functionality.

Gogo will deploy the service in 2018, leveraging its existing tower infrastructure. “Leveraging our first generation network is key to making this next generation network highly reliable and economical to deploy,” says Gogo CTO Anand Chari in a statement. “Gogo’s next generation network will also be backward-compatible with Gogo’s first generation network, which means an aircraft will be able to seamlessly switch between Gogo’s two networks similar to how a cell phone on the ground connects to the fastest available network.”

Installation of the new system is similar to the legacy ATG and ATG-4 products. It just requires an overnight maintenance stop. The new antenna, pictured, is a small, lightweight system. An upgraded modem – supporting the higher throughput speeds – completes the onboard hardware upgrade.

Gogo has long operated its ATG connectivity offering within a narrow slice of licensed radio spectrum; this has limited its ability to increase capacity on planes. The company invested significant time and effort in pushing for access to the 14 GHz spectrum band (used by Ku satellites), which was expected to be licensed by the FCC. However, numerous objections to a 14 GHz secondary license auction, including from the Association of Flight Attendants, ultimately saw the FCC take no action leaving Gogo without the new spectrum it needed.

kontron newestEarlier this year Gogo stated it would bail on the 14 GHz option and now confirms that unlicensed spectrum will support its future. By moving to use unlicensed spectrum Gogo avoids many of the FCC challenges while also losing exclusivity on the frequencies. However, Gogo could find itself competing with would-be inflight connectivity provider SmartSky Networks in the unlicensed spectrum realm; to date, SmartSky has not said where it is sourcing its 60 MHz of reused spectrum.

Gogo continues to push its 2Ku satellite network as well. The new ATG solution is designated by Gogo as targeting “business aviation aircraft, commercial regional jets and select narrowbody aircraft operating within the United States and Canada”. For larger planes or those which leave the continent the satellite option provides a better coverage footprint and scalability of service.

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    • Seth Miller

      Of course there are disadvantages to it. Contention for access is the primary one and is noted in the story. As for “Why now?” the answer is also clear in the story: Access to the licensed spectrum isn’t going to happen. The company bailed on that several months ago and is pursuing other options. Gogo has known for years it needed more spectrum. The 14GHz space was preferred but the FCC didn’t move and eventually the secondary path was taken.

      And this is all still 14+ months away so plenty of time for things to change/evolve/whatever.

      • Greg

        what does contention for access mean to airlines who might be interested? Is there any performance and availability impact ?

        • Seth Miller

          More than happy to set up a private appointment and explain it in more detail to you; my rates are reasonable. Appreciate your concern on the topic.

          • Greg

            While I appreciate the offer to consult (as a journalist), that was a rhetoric question. The article doesn’t highlight the downside of using unlicensed spectrum and how that can impact service availability and interruptions.

          • Seth Miller

            I appreciate your concerns, Greg. I believe we’ve called attention to the fact that unlicensed spectrum has challenges associated with it.

            Then again, I also understand your insistence on pursuing the issue given your company’s position in the industry. Trying to be the innocent bystander while coming from an obviously biased position is pretty hard to do.