Gogo turns to Airspan for 5G MIMO

Gogo is marking several milestones on its way to delivering 5G services to private jets thanks to its partnership with Airspan Networks.

So far, it’s just in the testing stages, but it’s a continuation of a project that started a couple years ago, where Airspan is leveraging patents that it received around high-speed interfaces and objects in motion, according to Airspan President and CEO Eric Stonestrom.

Airspan’s work in the high-speed transportation industry spans several years, back when it started working with McLaren on Formula One race cars.

RELATED: Airspan snags Gogo, other high-profile wins

Last year, Gogo announced it was selling its commercial aviation business to Intelsat for $400 million, so now it’s focused on the private business aviation market. What Airspan provides are antennas ruggedized for harsh environments and capable of supporting air-to-ground communications, among other things.

In some ways, what Airspan accomplished in 4G is now being replicated in 5G. One of the things they have to contend with is a super low latency handoff, and that’s further complicated by the Doppler effect.

They’re working with Gogo to help bring 5G to aircraft traveling at over 500 MPH and at elevations up to 35,000 or 40,000 feet, where the challenges in obtaining reliable connections with low latency are as great as ever. 

Massive MIMO helps when it comes to coverage, capacity and throughput, Stonestrom said, pointing to an example of a group of children who are all speaking at the same time. If two of them are speaking English and more children start speaking in English, pretty soon the noise level is such that no one can understand anything.

However, if two speak in English, two speak in French and two speak in German, each group can listen to what they understand and not be confused with noise from another group. Therefore, they can handle a louder noise level because they’re filtering out the parts they don’t speak.

“That’s a lot of what Massive MIMO does,” he said. It relies on radio signals taking multiple paths. With a 16x16 array antenna, for example, engineers can create paths between the planes and base stations on the ground, allowing them to channel more information through.

Speaking of Massive MIMO, Airspan is well on its way to becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the firm New Beginnings Acquisition Corp., which uses the ticker symbol “NBA,” and that’s expected to close before the end of this summer. Then NBA will be renamed "Airspan Networks Holdings Inc.," and it will be a public company listed on the NYSE American under the symbol "MIMO." 

Airspan is also well-known for its involvement in the industry’s open Radio Access Network (RAN) efforts, where it’s a partner of Rakuten in Japan, among others.

Back to Gogo Business Aviation and Airspan, here are some of their latest achievements, according to the companies:

  • Installation of the first two 5G antennas from Airspan on a tower. Plans call for Gogo to conduct prototype testing of system performance.
  • Completion of coast-to-coast flight testing by Gogo of its 5G belly-mounted antennas to validate their performance.
  • Interoperability testing using Gogo SIM cards connected to the Gogo 5G core network.

Gogo said it continues to work with Airspan and other technology partners to test and build out its nationwide air-to-ground (ATG) network.

Why Airspan? “Airspan had the right experience and the right technologies to allow us to develop 5G to serve aviation, and do so quickly,” said Jeremy Tyler, senior director of airborne engineering for Gogo.

As for the role of open RAN, Tyler said it’s a technology that Airspan uses and is familiar with. “They have expertise with it and that’s why it makes sense for our 5G solution,” he told Fierce.