Written by Matthew Rothenberg
Traveling by plane can sometimes be a challenge: You’ve paid good money to spend time traveling very fast in a small space high in the sky. Airlines today are bringing more and more services to the air to make that experience better.
Consider the new world of in-flight Internet access. Travelers connected 24/7 to broadband expect comparable speeds during a plane trip — but at 35,000 feet, the technology required to connect multiple passengers to their sites and services can slow Wi-Fi to a crawl.
Now Gogo, the leader in in-flight connectivity, has opened up the bandwidth thanks to ATG-4, a new version of its Air to Ground technology that triples the bandwidth to the aircraft it services.
“From a technology perspective, this tends to be a very complicated topic,” said Anand Chari, Gogo’s executive vice president and chief technology officer. “The traveling public has an expectation of the Internet connectivity they receive. They expect it to be just as fast as it is on the ground but the reality is, bringing bandwidth to the plane is a very complicated feat.”
Keeping the bandwidth flowing is also complicated from the airline’s side, Chari said: Hardware to provide Internet connectivity can add weight or drag to the plane, and the time it takes to install can have a significant impact on the service.
Gogo got a jump on other in-flight solutions with its original ATG technology, which comprised a single modem equipped with two fixed antennae that communicated with fixed antennae on Gogo’s land-based towers, which now comprise more than 200 in the continental United States, Canada and Alaska,
ATG-4 includes several key enhancements that make a big difference. First of all, there are four antennae on the plane that are directional, which lets them communicate more clearly with ground towers in all directions.
Second, ATG-4 doubles the hardware on the airplane itself: The Gogo team adds a second modem to each plane.
Bottom line: While the original ATG afforded a peak speed of 3.1 Mbps, ATG-4 connects planes to a peak of 9.8 Mbps.
Upgraded software also helps allocate that bandwidth more evenly among passengers. “We have many bandwidth-shaping methods to allocate bandwidth so it’s not problematic for other people,” Chari said, even on flights where many devices are vying for airtime.
“I like to compare bandwidth to a bag of marshmallows,” Chari said. “The original ATG brought one bag of marshmallows onto the plane, and when they’d all been distributed, people had to break them into pieces and share some of their marshmallows with others.”
“ATG-4 brings three bags on board … There’s a lot more to go around.”