Gogo gets FAA approval for 70 Mbps in-flight Wi-Fi service, but most rollouts coming in 2016

Gogo, the in-flight Wi-Fi provider, said that the Federal Aviation Administration has given final approval for a new technology that the company claims will provide a 20x increase in bandwidth over its existing Air to Ground solution, bringing 70 Mbps connections to plane. However, most airlines that are adopting the new technology won't be updating their planes with new equipment to support the service until next year.  

The company said the FAA signed off on the final Supplemental Type Certificate to let Gogo launch its "2Ku" next-generation satellite connectivity service. The technology is currently installed on Gogo's 737-500 test plane and is now cleared for in-flight testing, the company said in a statement. Gogo expects to launch commercial service of its 2Ku technology later this year.

However, the big hurdle to getting customers faster speeds for in-flight Wi-Fi is that airlines will need to install new gear on planes to take advantage of the technology. Gogo said that seven commercial airlines have signed up for either a trial or fleet deployment of 2Ku covering a fleet of more than 500 commercial planes. Gogo said it expects to launch commercial service later this year "and begin rapid installation of the backlog of 500 aircraft in 2016."

Delta is the main U.S. airline that has promised to use the new technology, though United is also adding it to five planes, according to Re/code. Latin American airline company GOL said it will install Gogo's 2Ku services, including the company's new IPTV solution -- Gogo TV -- on all its 140 aircraft.

"We believe this will be the best performing technology for the global commercial aviation market bar none," Gogo CTO Anand Chari said in a statement. "Clearing this regulatory hurdle brings us one step closer to enabling our airline partners and their passengers to enjoy the future of in-flight Internet."

Gogo CEO Matthew Small earlier this month had reiterated Gogo's plan to offer satellite-based 2Ku Internet connections, via satellite providers Intelsat and SES Ku, sometime later this year. The move, he said, would alleviate congestion on the company's existing ATG network in the United States. Gogo's ATG in-flight Internet service launched almost 10 years ago in the 800 MHz band using Qualcomm's EV-DO technology. ATG uses 3 MHz of spectrum and delivers fairly slow speeds of 1-3 Mbps.

As Re/code notes, Gogo has been managing the large demand for its limited bandwidth by raising prices and sometimes charges up to $30 for a cross-country flight if users sign up on the plane. However, customers can get that for half the price if they purchase a day pass before taking off.  

Gogo's new technology could make it possible to access streaming video services -- or, at the very least, make the in-flight Wi-Fi experience more tolerable.

"Getting 2Ku to market this year is critical. As far as we can see, 2Ku is the best global solution to market," Small said earlier this month on the company's earnings conference call. "We believe it wins on four key factors: cost, coverage, capacity and reliability. And specifically in North America it will enhance the passenger experience and free up capacity for planes operating on our ATG network when Delta begins [to] deploy 2Ku in 2016."

For more:
- see this Gogo release
- see this Re/code article

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