Written by Jason Rabinowitz
The Internet has become so integrated into our daily lives that the mere thought of remaining somewhere without data connection is unthinkable. Although in-flight Internet is only a few years old, usage has grown exponentially to the point where passengers expect it on every flight. To help meet the growing demands for access and speed, Gogo has developed multiple, yet distinct methods to get that signal to your aircraft: ATG, ATG4, Ku/Ka-band satellite, and GTO.
ATG, or Air to Ground, is the technology that first brought in-flight Internet to the masses. The ATG system relies on more than 200 base stations in the continental United States, Alaska, and Canada to get the signal to the aircraft. Unlike traditional cellular towers which your cell phone uses, the ATG system points antennas up instead of down in order to blanket the sky with coverage. ATG provides data speeds comparable to a 3G data connection on the ground.
ATG-4 is an enhanced, more robust version of the original Gogo ATG network. ATG-4 launched in 2012 with Virgin America, but has since been expanded to nearly 500 aircraft. Utilizing directional antennas and dual modem technology, ATG-4 increases overall peak connection speeds to each aircraft by more than three times. More importantly, ATG-4 ensures a more reliable connection to each and every passenger on board who choose to connect. More passengers per aircraft are able to connect at the same time with ATG-4.
Where coverage from ATG ground based systems isn’t possible, satellite technology brings in-flight Internet down from space. Satellites cover areas where a ground based system never could, such as over the Atlantic Ocean, enabling passengers on long-haul flights to access the Internet just like on a domestic flight. A satellite transceiver is placed on top of the aircraft, and the antenna pans and rotates in order to stay pointed at the satellites, even when the aircraft maneuvers. Depending on the type of satellite connection, Internet speeds rival what you may find on the ground in the airport terminal.
GTO, or Ground to Orbit, is where things really start to get interesting. For those on especially data hungry routes, GTO is a hybrid system which combines the ATG-4 network with the added download speed boost from a secondary satellite connection. The GTO system utilizes a downlink-only antenna, making it much smaller than a traditional satellite system, which reduces drag on the aircraft. GTO will provide download speeds of 70 Mbps per aircraft when launched with Virgin America in the second half of 2014.