Gogo Wireless CEO: 2016 will be ramp year for 2Ku in-flight Wi-Fi technology

Gogo Wireless' No. 1 goal is to get its new and improved 2Ku technology on more planes, with 2016 being a ramp year, according to the company's CEO.

Speaking at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York this week, CEO Michael Small said the company is so convinced that 2Ku is the leading next-gen solution in the in-flight wireless business that it has demonstrated it for representatives of Wall Street, the airlines, media and "lots of streamers" on planes to show the technology in action, and "we're still getting pretty great results and great performance."

Gogo has plans for installing 2Ku in about 550 aircraft. More than 250 aircraft in Delta's existing fleet are expected to be outfitted with Gogo 2Ku. Installations should be done by the end of 2018. Meanwhile, the company is in discussions with leading airlines around the world.

Small said there's still about 10,000 aircraft in the world, mostly outside the United States, that don't have connectivity. But given the amount of noise in the market, it's slow going in terms of reaching deals with airlines in part due to uncertainty about which solution is best; airlines don't want to use a technology that's going to be obsolete tomorrow. 

"The airlines are still trying to figure this out," he said, but he believes that as Gogo starts deploying 2Ku and demonstrating how it works, they will be reassured. "I have increased confidence that 2016, you're going to see more action than 2015." British Airways and Air France, for example, have stated their commitment to connectivity but haven't announced their suppliers. "We're seeing more and more indications of people saying they're going to do it."

By using 2Ku technology, Gogo gets access to about 180 satellites, which provides redundancy and backup, and it has the ability to choose from multiple satellite providers. Other competitors, such as Panasonic Avionics and Global Eagle Entertainment, use the same satellites, but Small said they don't have Gogo's antenna, which delivers better performance. Because it's a larger phased-array round antenna, it does not have problems in the tropics, for example, where other satellite solutions degrade due to restrictions associated with operating at high skew angles.

Gogo has been capacity strained and limits what customers can do with its current service on planes. The company says the advantages of the 2Ku antenna are significant and will be the most TV-friendly solution in the market, producing more bandwidth at less cost. In April 2014, Gogo announced it was going to use 2Ku, naming Japan Airlines among the first to conduct trials and promising peak speeds of 70 Mbps. When the company launched its in-flight services six years ago, it delivered peak speeds of 3.1 Mbps, and with its ATG-4 service, it delivered up to 9.8 Mbps in peak speeds.

"I don't think anybody else in the world is really focused like we are on creating the smart platform for the connected aircraft," Small said. He believes the "end point" is more than 10 years but less than 20 where the connected aircraft will be "just a given," and a whole new way of operating the airline business. "What we need to do today is get more bandwidth to more planes and that's what gives us the preeminent position to capture the connected aviation of the future."

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