When we launched our air-to-ground service for commercial airlines in 2008, the Internet was quite different from what we use today. Facebook was in its infancy, streaming movie services were virtually non-existent, and the first Android phone had not even been announced. Since then, a lot has changed – we’ve grown from a startup with Wi-Fi on a handful of planes to a world leading aero communications service provider on over 2000 aircraft with air-to-ground coverage in the United States and Canada as well as global satellite coverage.
Something else that has changed is our insatiable demand for bandwidth. Put simply – we’re all using much more data than ever. This growing demand for bandwidth led the Gogo engineering team to develop our second generation air-to-ground technology called ATG-4. ATG-4 is currently installed on over 600 aircraft, and new aircraft are being upgraded every month. Additionally, we’re also installing ATG-4 equipment on new fleet additions, like the recently announced regional fleet on United Airlines.
But what exactly is ATG-4, and how does it help bring more bandwidth to an airplane? First of all, let’s explain the name; ATG-4 stands for air-to-ground 4. The air-to-ground portion refers to the Gogo network of cellular based towers around the country that point up at the sky, delivering our service to aircraft. The “4” actually refers to the number of antennas on the aircraft used to communicate with our ground network. We operate over 225 towers around the United States and Canada.
ATG-4 is added to an aircraft in one of two ways; as a new installation or as an upgrade from a plane that already had our original ATG system. One of these upgrades can be seen in the video below.
The advantages of ATG-4 over our original system are:
As mentioned above, ATG-4 uses 4 antennas, compared to the 2 on our original system. With 4 antennas, the aircraft is able to connect to multiple Gogo tower sites at the same time. Our antenna setup includes two “belly” antennas and two side mounted antennas. In the video below, you’ll see engineers install these new antennas on a Virgin America plane. Next time you fly, take a look at the bottom and side of your plane to see whether you’ll be flying with ATG-4.
Two is usually better than one, and this also applies to modems. Modems are what actually handle the transmission between the plane and our towers on the ground. Because we have access to multiple tower sites, we need multiple modems to handle the stream of data. These modems are housed inside a single add-on box which can expand an existing ATG system into ATG-4.
Upgrade to EVDO Rev. B.
EVDO is the transmission technology used to communicate with our towers. For fans of acronyms, EVDO stands for EVolution Data Optimized. EVDO Rev. B is the second generation of this wireless transmission standard, and it allows for more data throughput on existing airwaves.
These three technologies combined, make it possible for our peak data speeds to increase significantly, which means more people can connect to our service, and enjoy the experience of being online at 30,000 feet.