Wi-Fi service on airplanes in the U.S. is going to get much, much faster, claims Gogo, which provides in-flight Internet on a handful of airlines. The company is prepared to launch Gogo GTO (Ground to Orbit), a hybrid technology that will deliver data at speeds reaching 60 Mbps on moving airplanes.
Gogo GTO uses both satellite technologies and cellular technologies to extract the best performance from all the moving parts in the system. Airplanes will receive ground-based transmissions via satellite, but the airplane will send its own transmissions to Gogo's Air-To-Ground (ATG) cellular network. In other words, it uses satellites for the uplink and cellular networks for the downlink. Virgin America is slated to be the launch partner for the service, which is expected to get off the ground in the second half of 2014. Other airlines will follow shortly thereafter.
In order to make the system work, Gogo is using a new antenna designed specifically to work in the Ku-band satellite spectrum. According to Gogo, most satellite systems have limited power for transmission. That means weaker signals. Satellite antennas also need to be a certain size to transmit. Because Gogo is using its ATG cellular network for the outbound transmission, it can use a smaller satellite antenna on airplanes. The smaller antenna helps airplanes because it reduces drag and boosts fuel efficiency when in the air. The new antenna is also future-proof against changes in Ku-band satellite technology. In other words, Gogo won't need to install new antennas as satellites mature.
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"By using this type of hybrid technology you're utilizing the low latency of ATG and the high throughput of current and future satellite technologies, which we feel will give passengers a much better user experience," explained Gogo CTO Anand Chari. "We also expect GTO to be the most TV-friendly solution in the market. 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."
What it means for mobile professionals and consumers alike is much better Internet performance when traveling across the country. Right now, Gogo's in-flight Wi-Fi is limited to about 10 Mbps, which is spread across all the devices that connect when airborne. The system works with most any Wi-Fi device, including laptops, tablets and smartphones. With better connectivity in the sky, mobile pros should be able to accomplish a lot more when aloft than catching up on their Netflix queue.
Before Gogo can use this new technology, however, it needs to get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration due to the antenna design. It believes the Federal Communications Commission won't have any problem with the new antenna because it is receive-only.
Gogo hasn't said if it will change its cost structure to use this new and improved service. The company offers per-flight, daily and monthly packages.
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