Virgin America to bring big bandwidth to passengers with new hybrid connectivity system

September 11, 2013

Multimedia

Gogo jonnyjet Virgin America to bring big bandwidth to passengers with new hybrid connectivity system

Gogo has rewritten the rules for connectivity options with the debut of Gogo Ground to Orbit (GTO) and secured Virgin America as the launch customer for the hybrid ATG/Ku-band satellite solution.

Inflight connectivity solutions usually involve compromise. Higher bandwidth satellite options typically come with higher latency while lower-latency air-to-ground (ATG) can mean limited bandwidth. Rather than settle for one side of the compromise, Gogo has rewritten the rules for connectivity options with the launch of Gogo GTO.

The GTO product is a hybrid ATG/Ku-band satellite solution, taking advantage of the strengths each technology offers and combining them into a solution that can offer better performance at a lower cost. The satellite portion of the connection will be receive-only, allowing for much faster download speeds than the current ATG option. Uploads will still travel across the ATG network, keeping the lower latency benefits which it offers. Gogo expects to deliver 60 megabit download speeds to planes using the GTO system starting in the second half of 2014.

For Gogo chief technology officer, Anand Chari the new technology is the next step in a progression of connectivity options that the company has pioneered. “We are a leader and innovator in this space. We are glad that we have the opportunity to prove that in the marketplace. We introduced ATG. We tripled the speed using ATG-4. Now we are putting a path forward to increase it an order of magnitude from there. As innovations in the satellite space takes place it going to mean a better experience for the flying public.”

The launch airline for GTO is Virgin America. The San Francisco-based carrier was also the launch partner for the ATG-4 solution and has been aggressive in pursuing higher bandwidth options for its passengers. CEO David Cush sums up the situation smartly, “Virgin America guests expect a fully connected inflight experience that enables them to remain productive even at 35,000 feet…. [W]e are pleased to be the launch partner for GTO, which will be another leap forward in terms of speed and performance of in-flight Wi-Fi for our guests.”

The onboard half of the satellite kit is quite different from the other options currently in the market. Because it is a receive-only solution it is lighter, cheaper and consumes less power than the competition. The receiver can also perform at much higher speeds than other Ku-band solutions because it is receive-only. Gogo will not be restricted to lower power settings which limit transmitting systems to avoid interference. Finally, the antenna is much smaller. This means the radome profile is smaller, reducing drag in-flight. Finally, because it is a receive-only system there is no FCC licensing though FAA certification is still required. Gogo will apply for that approval in early 2014.

By choosing the Ku-band option for the implementation Gogo is able to leverage a large number of satellites currently in service around the globe, as well as future Ku-band satellites that are expected to be launched in the future. It can work with traditional or spot-beam Ku-band feeds allowing for tremendous flexibility, says the firm.

Gogo currently has agreements with Ku-band providers and will leverage those contracts to provide coverage initially. Future growth of the service will be supported by additional partners as needed. And, as Chari sees things, the value proposition for the GTO offering only gets better as the new satellites are put into service. “We are also seeing a path where future satellites are going to be more efficient. … The antenna efficiency and the gain that we have translates to future satellites as well. It is twice as efficient with today’s satellites; it will be twice as efficient with tomorrow’s satellites compared to competing technology,” he says.

The benefits of the high-bandwidth/lower-latency combination are not limited to typical data traffic patterns. Gogo sees the opportunity to expand the range of services available to customers in conjunction with the new service. Chari sees GTO as enabling new video options in a very efficient and less expensive package, saying, “The receive-only GTO antenna’s higher spectral efficiency and lower cost structure will produce a better quality picture for various types of applications including IPTV.”

GTO is meant to augment the existing ATG offering, not supplant it. Gogo does not expect that every aircraft with ATG will have the new kit installed. They see the initial demand focused on routes where utilization is higher such as transcons rather than shorter hops where consumption demand is lower.

GTO is a game-changer and breaks the compromise requirement in many ways, but it still has its own limitations. Because it depends on the ATG link for uploads it is not a transoceanic solution.

GTO is not the connectivity panacea; it will not be all things to all customers. Still, it represents a huge leap forward in technology and connectivity options in a way that augments rather than displaces. That’s going to make many customers – passengers and airlines – quite happy.

Picture credit billypix.com (image of Johnny Jet – the Travel Insider)

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About Seth Miller

Seth authors the popular Boarding Area blog, The Wandering Aramean. A world traveller and avid frequent-flyer points collector, Seth has become an expert in the field of airline loyalty programmes. You can connect with Seth on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

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8 Responses to “Virgin America to bring big bandwidth to passengers with new hybrid connectivity system”

  1. Marcel Says:

    Well done guys, this is a great innovation! Having extensively used both the GoGo and OnAir services over the past couple of years I can say with great confidence that the total user experience with GoGo far exceeded that of the OnAir equipped aircraft. I found the OnAir offering to have a clumsy interface, horribly expensive pricing and atrocious download speeds… I could TXT ok though…but I could do that in the 90′s!

    Reply

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