By Dennis Jones
From business travelers to harried parents, everyone relies on in-flight Wi-Fi to while away the long hours on a plane. For business users especially, working in-flight cuts down on significant opportunity costs to flying during business hours. The airline industry has duly noted the surging demand and now offers in-flight Wi-Fi on two-thirds of all flights, according to Routehappy’s Global State of In-Flight Wi-Fi. But with first-generation technology that acts a lot like a cellphone tower in reverse, the user experience can be spotty. At present, the passing plane has to capture a signal from the ground base then redistribute the signal throughout the cabin. And therefore, Gogo is set to unveil its second-generation technology this winter. But that might not even be the most exciting news coming out of the in-flight giant. Gogo CEO, Michael Small, recently revealed that his company is already laying down the foundation for a third-generation solution, which would involve hooking up entire aircraft to the Internet of Things.
For the moment, Gogo is planning on a winter roll-out of its second-generation technology, Satellite 2Ku. 2Ku uses spot-beam satellites; planes connect directly to the satellites, which transmit greater bandwidth signals. With 2Ku, Wi-Fi speeds will soar up to 70 MB/second. That’s 20 times faster than the first generation technology in use today.
Two factors have traditionally slowed down the adoption of innovations in in-flight Wi-Fi: government regulation and cost, with airlines having to outfit aircraft with expensive new gear. But in January, Gogo cleared a major regulatory hurdle when it received FCC approval for 2Ku. And going forward, Gogo will equip 500 planes across seven airlines with the new technology.
Small, however, discussed in a recent interview that even 2Ku might soon be superseded, as airlines, following consumer demand, are increasingly interested in linking their aircraft to the Internet of Things. That would be a huge leap forward in reliability, as planes would be connected from nose to tail. Small believes that the technology needed to connect everything would come from a smart platform. And he cited NASA’s innovation advances with TASAR (Traffic Aware Strategic Aircrew Requests) software, which helps aircraft operators save time and fuel by allowing technology in the cockpit to help determine the most efficient flight paths.
It’s still early days, Small acknowledged, but these are certainly exciting times for in-flight Wi-Fi.