For most travelers, the advent of in-flight Wi-Fi access seemed to happen overnight. One day, they walked onto a plane, and there it was. The truth is, it wasn’t quite that simple. As the late Jack Blumenstein used to say, “I’ve been working for 20 years to make Gogo an overnight success.”
It all began back in 1991, long before anyone was worried about updating Facebook or filing an expense report mid-air. Aviation enthusiast Jimmy Ray sketched out a plan to create an affordable telephone system for private planes on a paper napkin in a Texas barbecue joint. That sketch would soon turn into Aircell, the company that would eventually become Gogo.
Building a phone system for the skies was no easy task, and Aircell quietly and determinedly grew and developed for several years. By the early 2000s, the company was in full operation, offering Air to Ground (ATG) cellular service, and was expanding globally. Then, the most transformative moment in Aircell/Gogo’s history happened in 2006: The company won a Federal Communications Commission auction for 3 MHz of exclusive broadband spectrum between aircrafts and a grounded network.
It was a big moment for Aircell. The company immediately went to work building its own network of cellular towers. Though they looked like traditional cell towers in many ways, rather than facing the ground, Aircell’s first-of-their-kind towers looked skyward.
That very same year, Aircell launched a service travelers had never before seen — affordable broadband service for both commercial and business aviation. It was called Gogo In-flight Internet.
The airline industry did not hesitate in responding. While the technology to bring the Internet to airplanes was possible before, through Connexion by Boeing, the high cost of the service, as well as a time consuming installation for planes made the satellite-based system unappealing. Gogo, on the other hand, was a simple install. By 2009, the service was available through American Airlines, Virgin America, Delta, Air Canada, Air Tran Airways and United. And the list just kept growing.
Aircell officially became Gogo in July of 2011, but the company still remained faithful to those big ideas sketched out by Jimmy Ray two decades prior. ATG phone service for business aviation is still a division of Gogo, and it continues to bear the name “Aircell.”
Meanwhile, Gogo has grown to become the world’s leading provider of in-air connectivity with more than 2,000 commercial and 6,500 business aircrafts serviced by its products. Gogo is now a public company with more than 700 employees, its own Gogo One jet and satellite offices all over the world. It certainly has come a long way since its humble beginnings on that napkin in Texas, but one thing has never changed. Big ideas and a vision of connecting air travelers to affordable in-flight communications still drive everything Gogo does.
— Written by Natalie Burg