Ever since our company began as an idea scribbled on the back of a napkin in 1991 we’ve been working hard to bring the best communications solutions to the aviation market. The network invented on this napkin became an important part of our company history, and even now it is proudly displayed around our offices as a reminder of how it all began.
Things started small, and at the time, nobody could have ever dreamed of where we’d be 26 years later. Our first product offered analog phone service to the private aviation market.
Very little of what we wanted to accomplish existed when we started, so the technology we were creating was absolutely cutting edge. Many of the basic building blocks for getting connectivity to planes resulted in Gogo being issued some very important patents.
Thanks to some of the early pioneers at Aircell (the original name of our company), we became the proud owners of several core patents for IFC – In-flight Communications. In the photo seen above, Jimmy Ray, Robert George and Richard Levine are listed on the first patent issued to our company. We honored founder Jimmy Ray by naming our Boeing 737-500 test aircraft after him.
The in-flight communication industry has seen many new technologies, with the main goal of trying to keep up with bandwidth demands from passengers traveling around the world. What started as a platform for sending a couple of quick emails, has evolved into networks capable of streaming movies off the ground keeping 100’s of passengers connected at the same time.
We operated our domestic analog phone service for many years before other technologies caught up with it. In 2002, we started offering Iridium phone service as a new solution for business aviation. This low earth orbit satellite system is able to provide global digital phone service through an extremely lightweight hardware package. Gogo has installed Iridium hardware on thousands of aircraft. In 2012, we announced our own Android based phone handset, capable of working with Iridium, or the newer SwiftBroadband satellite system. The handset was designed from the ground up, and features sound quality enhancing technology making it a perfect solution for loud aircraft cabins.
In the early 2000’s it was clear that the internet was becoming an increasingly important part of our lives. At that time, internet access was primarily limited to your home or your office, and while there were plenty of laptop computers (and even some early tablet PC’s), it would be several years till we’d have the technology required to take the internet with us on the go. Gogo realized that things were changing, and we used some of the expertise gained from developing our first network to creating a way to bring internet access to business and commercial aviation.
One of the first things you need in order to get data transmitted wirelessly is radio spectrum. Thankfully for us, the FCC was about to auction off some new spectrum. The spectrum up for sale used to be part of the Airfone network operated by GTE (now Verizon), a relic that almost everyone who flew a major US domestic airline will remember seeing in the back of the seat in front of them.
This spectrum auction took place over several months in 2006, and on June 7, 2006 Aircell was announced as the winner of the largest spectrum “block”, netting us 3.5MHz. Of course, now the hard work could begin as we had to develop an air to ground cellular network from scratch. This meant creating the airborne hardware, and building tower sites around the country, all in just 2 years.Our first partner airline was American, and their first flight with Gogo took place in June 2008 on a Boeing 767. At the time, most people only thought internet access would be required on long transcontinental flights, nowadays we of course know better than that. Pretty quickly after our launch, we realized that passengers were expecting connectivity on everything from short regional flights to flights around the world.
Gogo’s ATG was not the first system to bring internet to the skies – several pioneers had attempted to break into this market before us. Connexxion by Boeing is perhaps the best example. Connexxion was a satellite based service that was available on several large airlines delivering connectivity through Ku band satellites. Sadly, the product didn’t last very long – a combination of extremely heavy equipment and slow customer adaptation meant it was removed from planes just a few years after launch. The technology used here was definitely ahead of its time as the main concept behind the service is still in use today.
At launch, Gogo was the only company in the world offering true broadband capable Wi-Fi to airlines. We immediately saw a huge amount of interest in our ATG product. In our first year, four new airlines signed up for the service, and one year later we already announced the first airline with fleet-wide availability. By 2012, Gogo’s ATG product was installed on 1500 aircraft, and just a year later we were at 2000 aircraft. Very quickly after installing on a few of their planes, airlines realized that their customers expected fleet-wide installation, and the days of having to check whether a specific route or plane type would be connected were quickly gone. Even today, Gogo ATG is considered the fastest adopted in-flight broadband system in the world.
The advantages of our air to ground system were very clear to our airline partners – the system is extremely lightweight, it can be installed during an overnight stop and it offers a clear path for future features like wireless entertainment. Many Gogo airline partners did just that, adding the Gogo Vision streaming video technology to their fleet. Gogo Vision now streams over 100,000 movies to personal devices every single day, all from the media storage offered by our airborne CPU.
On the business aviation side, special versions of our ATG product were developed for different sized planes, allowing us to offer in-flight broadband for everything from the small turbo-prop market all the way to the largest private jets. All combined, Gogo connectivity products can be found on over 7,200 aircraft.
Until 2012, all of our commercial aviation activities had been limited to the domestic market in the US and Canada. Our airline partners started to look for connectivity options for their international fleet, so we moved on to the next major development in our company history offering global connectivity. Delta Air Lines was the first of our partners to outfit its planes with an international satellite solution from Gogo, using Ku band satellites. As the demand for bandwidth increased so did our investment in new technologies, and on April 8, 2014 we announced 2Ku at the Airline Interiors Expo in Hamburg. 2Ku was developed in-house, delivering the aviation market a system capable of previously unheard of speeds and coverage.
Until 2Ku, satellite internet could only reach a plane through a “gimbaled antenna”. This type of antenna has to physically move to point at the satellite The antenna has to do this while the plane is moving, and it has to be so accurate that it doesn’t accidentally point at the wrong satellite. 2Ku alleviates all of these problems through a unique dual phased array antenna system.The antenna is also much lower than a traditional gimbal antenna, resulting in a lower radome covering the equipment. This lower radome means less drag, and less drag means less fuel burned.
As of March 2017, 2Ku is already installed on over 130 aircraft, making it yet another technology developed at an incredible pace. Gogo has managed to get 2Ku from the drawing board to first flight in under 2 years, an incredible timeframe for technology in the aviation industry.
Even as we start the process of installing 2Ku on some of the 1500 aircraft in our backlog, we’re busy developing the next generation of in-flight connectivity products. In March 2016, we announced a partnership with Intelsat and OneWeb to create entirely new ways of using our 2Ku system, and we’re currently testing a new modem that can boost speeds beyond 100Mbps. Our ATG network isn’t being ignored either – at the 2016 Aircraft Interiors Expo in Singapore we announced the next generation ATG network. This new network will use unlicensed spectrum, a proprietary modem and a new beam-forming antenna to produce peak network speeds of more than 100 Mbps.
On the entertainment side, things are exciting as well – in addition to content streamed off our onboard server, we’re adding support for ground based streaming video services for passengers connected through our 2Ku system. In 2017, we’ll also introduce Gogo TV – our live television service, using the capacity of 2Ku to deliver multiple live TV channels to passenger devices.
Our industry is never standing still. In recent years, we’ve seen a shift from passenger connectivity to connecting the entire aircraft. Connected Aircraft Solutions go far beyond traditional connectivity products, and enable incredible technology like online handheld payment terminals for the flight attendants and live turbulence and weather tracking with connected flight bags in the cockpit. The 1200 employees at Gogo business and commercial aviation are proud to be part of such an exciting industry, and we will always be working hard to improve our current products, and develop incredible new products and services to enhance the passenger and airline experience.