In today’s world of Zoom and Microsoft Team meetings, business aviation passengers need to stay connected more than ever. They expect to climb aboard their jet and experience the same network performance and reliability as in their office. And the airborne internet provider they most often turn to—Gogo Business Aviation—is about to launch a true 5G experience that will knock their socks off.
PROVIDING AIRBORNE INTERNET: NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART
For nearly 30 years, Gogo has been at the forefront of airborne internet technology, and for more than 12 years now it’s been operating an air-to-ground (ATG) network of more than 250 towers and microwave sites to broadcast reliable, high-speed internet to upwards of 9,000 aircraft per day.
But it hasn’t been easy.
“Making an internet connection to aircraft at 500-plus mph at 30,000 feet is not for the faint of heart,” said Mike Syverson, senior vice president of development and operations at Gogo. “It takes deep engineering knowledge of telecom, aviation, and RF [radio frequency] engineering.”
At first, high-speed meant 3G, the kind of technology that allowed instantaneous text messages and voice calls from the air. Gogo built its airborne-specific 3G internet ground towers across North America—high on Alaskan mountaintops, in rainy Northwestern woods, in arid Southwestern deserts, on lonely plains of the Midwest, in the swamps of Florida, and along busy traffic corridors of the East Coast.
“Our field-service teams attend survival training and learn how to manage the physical exertion required to reach some of these remote posts for routine maintenance as well as for when there’s an unexpected issue,” said Alex Uribes, director of field operations and deployment for Gogo. “Our technicians have to be able to troubleshoot everything—power generation, heating, and air conditioning, RF and telecommunications issues, and even animal removal. They make ridiculously hard tasks look impressively easy, all to ensure our network maintains its 99.8 percent uptime status.”
Once the network had been built and was providing high-speed internet to its airborne customers in the mid-2000s, Gogo immediately began working on leading the industry in providing faster, more robust 4G service. Available today, Gogo’s 3G/4G network passes more than six million gigabytes of data per year with thousands of passenger and cockpit devices accessing the network each month. The 4G capability allows business aviation passengers to stream movies, participate in video conferencing, and send large attachments via email. Those capabilities have been proven to be vital during the current pandemic when distancing has been necessary and business jets have become a true and needed extension of the office.
Recent upgrades to the Gogo network have lowered the service altitude from 10,000 to 3,000 feet above ground level (AGL) to increase connectivity by about 20 minutes on typical flights during takeoff and on descent, and making connectivity a possibility for smaller aircraft that fly on short hops.
“The additional connectivity time is a significant enhancement and will deliver even more value to customers,” said Sergio Aguirre, president of Gogo Business Aviation. “It makes connectivity available to those who previously believed inflight Wi-Fi wasn't an option because they fly shorter routes.”
BRINGING 5G TO THE SKIES: GOGO TEAMS WITH WORLD-CLASS PARTNERS
While Gogo continually focuses on operational excellence and innovation for its existing infrastructure, it is not a team to rest on its laurels. In true Gogo spirit, the company is moving forward to bring airborne 5G connectivity to business aviation in North America at about the same time 5G will be available to the general public. Working with world-class 5G equipment providers Cisco Systems, Airspan, and FIRST RF, Gogo plans to launch the world’s first ATG 5G internet service in 2021, adding true 5G capability to its existing 3G/4G network and once again advancing the inflight Wi-Fi experience.
“Our existing infrastructure, network, and expertise are key reasons that we’re uniquely positioned to deploy 5G capability to the skies,” said Syverson. “It makes the work with our partners easier and more synergistic. Our expertise is now blending with [our partners’] to build on what we’ve already done.”
Each of the 5G partners will augment Gogo’s expertise with an exceptional capability: Cisco with data-center technology and automation, Airspan with state-of-the-art base-station technology, and FirstRF with airborne antenna technology.
“Cisco thrives in data-center technology and automation, plus it’s a superior company that really stands out in the 4G and 5G marketplace,” said Mike Schnepf, Gogo’s director of network engineering. “Using Cisco products and services means our customers are on a superior platform with high availability, speed, and performance. Using the Cisco brand provides a high level of credibility and a symbol of excellence in 5G connectivity.”
PROVIDING THE TRANSFORMATIONAL BENEFITS OF 5G
Gogo’s mission is to ensure that its customers experience all the transformational benefits of mobile 5G: increased speed, significantly greater capacity, and exceptionally low latency (i.e., the network is optimized to process a very high volume of data with minimal delay).
To do this, teams from Gogo and Airspan are working together to build a true 5G network for the airborne customer. Using advanced beamforming and tracking techniques, the Gogo system will provide enhanced mobile broadband 5G to airborne passengers, while technologies such as aggregating and channel bonding with Gogo’s underlying 3G/4G network will allow passengers who don’t yet have 5G devices to continue enjoying an unparalleled Wi-Fi experience. The teams are also working together to increase the 5G network’s capacity.
“Increasing capacity with faster speeds and lower latency are some of the key reasons Gogo 5G will be such a transformational inflight experience for our customers,” said Syverson. “Airspan’s 5G technical expertise will be highly valuable as we realize all of the benefits a true 5G network will enable, including speed, capacity, and lower latency. The Gogo 5G inflight experience is going to knock people’s socks off.”
As if building and maintaining a reliable, high-performance 5G network wasn’t hard enough, developing an aircraft antenna capable of delivering and receiving the 5G signals is just as difficult.
“In many ways, it’s the antenna that makes aviation broadband such a difficult and vital component,” said Syverson. “Fortunately, Gogo has great depth of expertise in this area and is partnering with FIRST RF to get it right.”
One reason Gogo selected FIRST RF as its 5G antenna supplier was its skill at miniaturizing antenna technology. Using its extensive antenna and RF systems technology expertise, FIRST RF is working with Gogo engineers to deploy a belly-mounted multiple-band aircraft antenna that communicates with Gogo's 3G and 4G networks as well as the new 5G network.
“The existing Gogo 3G and 4G networks are so important to 5G because the bonding of these networks creates redundant, fallback connectivity for Gogo users,” said Syverson. “FIRST RF are experts at miniaturizing technology—especially for aviation antennas—and they’re helping us pack all of the technology needed for all three networks into one slim antenna that will fit on virtually any business aircraft.”
IT’S WHAT HAPPENS IN THE AIRCRAFT THAT COUNTS
Gogo and its trusted partners are working hard to bring a true 5G network to the business aviation consumer. When it comes to airborne connectivity networks, ideas are easy to come by but incredibly hard to turn into reality. Gogo already delivers seamless coverage across the continental U.S., plus portions of Canada and Alaska. When Gogo 5G is launched, customers can be confident they’ll enjoy the same seamless coverage with all of the transformational benefits of 5G.
“Whether it’s the cabin or the cockpit, people want connectivity to give them the speed they need, a reliable service they can count on, and the ability to use flight time as personally and productively as they do in their home or office,” said Syverson. “That’s why Gogo 3G and 4G are trusted for use on more than 9,000 flights every day and why the bizav world is so excited about Gogo’s 5G launch.”