Gogo moves full steam ahead on 5G—but not with ZTE

airplane laptop
Gogo is bullish about airlines offering free Wi-Fi on planes. (Getty Images)

Gogo Wireless is partnering with an unnamed “leading U.S. 5G solutions provider” and nearing completion of the system design phase of its 5G initiative, its CEO said during Thursday’s second-quarter conference call.

Gogo President and CEO Oakleigh Thorne said Gogo’s business is fairly specialized, so when it develops a new network, “we can’t buy things off the shelf. We have to actually design the equipment with our vendors.” So it has partnered with an American infrastructure company to design and develop the radios and antennas, replacing ZTE, the Chinese vendor that served as its partner in the past. Thorne did not identify the U.S. vendor.

Gogo, which provides in-flight connectivity, announced in May that it plans to build a 5G network for aviation. Its new air-to-ground (ATG) network will be designed for use on business aviation aircraft, commercial regional jets and smaller mainline jets operating within the contiguous United States and Canada. Gogo expects the network to be available for business and commercial aviation in 2021.

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Thorne said that with the new network, Gogo will be able to deliver higher throughput and lower latency for a better passenger experience than other potential ATG products.

“We're starting to talk about 5G to airlines for their regional fleets and talk to business aviation owners, operators and dealers about 5G for their aircraft, and we're getting a very positive response,” he said in prepared remarks. “We remain on track to deliver this product in 2021 and are very excited about the value it could create for our company and our partners.”

CFO Barry Rowan reiterated that sentiment, saying Gogo is “keeping the pedal to the metal on 5G” and other initiatives.

Asked about speculation that Gogo is working on a tail-mounted business jet antenna with Galat, Thorne said the company has not officially announced a tail-mounted antenna for the business aviation market. However, “we have a vendor who seems to have announced that prematurely. We hope that means that they will deliver the product prematurely,” he quipped.

Gogo also sees big growth ahead in the area of free Wi-Fi on planes. Thorne said the company made substantial progress in the second quarter on its plans to ramp up operational support for airlines to provide free Wi-Fi to passengers.

A benefit to its model is it has the flexibility to move to new higher-quality, low-cost technologies as they come along in the future, according to Thorne. Toward that end, the company is working with satellite partners on several new technologies, including with a GEO operator on a satellite specifically designed for aero mobility and for more efficient use with its 2Ku antenna.

It’s also working with other satellite operators on smaller, more versatile software-defined satellites that could vastly enhance capacity, in addition to working with future LEO providers to see if they could potentially deploy their networks to provide enhanced latency and reduce costs.

Gogo has said it will build its 5G network on the existing infrastructure of more than 250 towers and will use unlicensed spectrum in the 2.4 GHz range, along with a proprietary modem and advanced beamforming technology. Its 5G infrastructure will support all spectrum types—licensed, shared and unlicensed—and mid, high and low bands.