Gogo to build ATG network for 5G

Consumers are getting 5G on land, so why not in the air as well? In-flight internet provider Gogo announced plans to build a 5G network for aviation, with expectations for 2021 commercial availability.

The company’s cellular-based network in the 850 MHz band operates over the continental U.S. and major air traffic routes over Canada and Alaska, with an FCC license to operate above 10,000 feet to avoid interference with ground-based communications.

“We’re not replacing our existing network,” Mike Syverson, SVP of engineering and operations at Gogo, told FierceWirelessTech. “The existing network is not going away, and that’s very important obviously for our customers.”

Gogo will deploy the 5G network on its existing infrastructure of more than 250 towers; it will also be adding a proprietary modem and advanced beamforming technology.

Gogo caters to distinct business interests, including one for commercial and another for business aircraft. The 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.

The way the planes get upgraded to 5G—if they do at all—will depend on the individual customers. In the business space, it will be up to the owners or operators of the individual aircraft to make the decision and that can look different depending on the owner/operator of the aircraft.

For example, some aircraft are owned by an individual who's the primary person flying on that one plane, so he or she would need to decide to upgrade or not; others are managed by corporate flight departments and they might operate a fleet of aircraft, in which case, it’s up to the company whether to upgrade and how many.

On the commercial airline side, it would be up to the airline to decide which aircraft in its fleet gets upgraded. Gogo points out that the customers onboard will benefit from a 5G experience, but they would not need a 5G phone to do so because they’re simply connecting to a Wi-Fi signal inside the cabin.

Latency is very important in an air-to-ground environment, where the planes are farther away from the cell sites, so the lower latency, beamforming and other advantages built into the 5G standard will prove advantageous. Syverson said the equipment that Gogo deploys will be 3GPP standards-compliant.

Gogo has selected an infrastructure partner but it isn’t revealing the identify of the vendor right now, he said.

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The 5G network will be implemented in the 2.4 GHz ISM band, launching in 2021. That timing should coincide with the wider launch of terrestrial 5G networks to match the expectations of consumers.

Gogo said its 5G infrastructure will support all spectrum types (licensed, shared, unlicensed) and bands (mid, high, low), and will allow Gogo to take advantage of new advances in technology as they’re developed.