Amid concerns that American Airlines is looking to take its business elsewhere for 200 aircraft, Gogo Wireless' CEO reassured investment analysts that it's on the right track by offering an open architecture, meaning its airline customers have more control over the systems they choose and services they offer.
"We are betting on an open architecture that will allow us to take advantage of whatever greater innovations like the Googles, the OneWebs, SpaceXs, the SCSs … and others will bring to the market," Gogo CEO Michael Small said during the company's fourth-quarter earnings conference call, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. "With an open architecture, airlines aren't tied to satellite technologies, instead they take advantage of whatever new technologies come down the road."
American Airlines, which is Gogo's second largest customer after Delta, earlier this month dropped a lawsuit against the in-flight Wi-Fi provider but still is looking at competing offers to deliver better service on about 200 of its aircraft. Small said Gogo will deliver an updated proposal to American Airlines by March 20 showing how it will offer a solution that gives American the option to offer faster, cheaper, open-ended technology aboard its aircrafts.
Gogo says it's got a strong open solution with 2Ku, where the antenna is about twice as spectrally efficient as any antenna in the market. "2x is a big deal because antenna technology doesn't improve at Moore's Law type of rates. It's like having an engine that's twice as efficient as the next one," Small said. "It's a big deal and so you put that on the phone, you're going to have twice the efficiency of using any new satellite that goes up and that's important."
When someone invents something new, "we can incorporate it very easily," he said. "There is a lot of intellectual property behind that and so what we're arguing is yes, the things like STCs [Supplemental Type Certificates], yes those big install programs become a lot less likely, a lot rarer for the airlines if you go down our path, and that's what really matters for them. They care about when they touch their [planes] what they do with their airplanes."
The company has been refining its technology and internally developed its antenna, which uses two low-profile, high efficiency Ku-band satellite antennas. But a lot of consumers have complained about poor experiences with Gogo's current in-flight Wi-Fi. The company is currently dealing with a backlog of hundreds of planes that need to be outfitted with the newer technology.
The company expects to get 75 2Ku planes flying this year and will quadruple that number in 2017. "The scale drives operational leverage for Gogo and adds value to our partners," Small said.
While American Airlines is entertaining the idea of using ViaSat technology, Gogo executives have said they consider ViaSat to be second-generation technology while 2Ku will outperform or perform as well while offering global coverage and cost savings.
But ViaSat has contracted for launches of ViaSat-2 and ViaSat-3 class satellites in the Ka-band frequencies that it says will offer significantly improved speeds at reduced cost and with a broader footprint. Panasonic Avionics recently announced milestone high throughput capacity agreements with SES S.A. to provide in-flight Wi-Fi and TV over the Americas.
Small also was asked about Gogo's Air-to-Ground (ATG) spectrum ambitions. Gogo executives recently visited the FCC to lobby for the auction of next generation 14 GHz ATG spectrum, and Small said while the company has an interest in having that option happen, it can't wait around and it's explored a lot of other options. "We will have a solution to our next gen ATG in North America," he said. "It may be the 14G or it may be alternatives and the alternatives are much more flushed out today than they were a few months ago."
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