Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Gogo's ATG-4 takes off

Gogo Plane Lab

On November 12th, Gogo unveiled its new and improved in-flight Wi-Fi system, ATG-4 (ATG stands for Air-to-Ground) which is currently onboard 40 of the 1,683 commercial airplanes in the U.S. that are currently equipped with Gogo in-flight internet systems. Virgin America, US Airways and Delta Airlines are the launch partners for ATG-4.

Passenger using Gogo in-flight on Virgin America

Travelers may only notice the improved speed and connectivity on a cross-country flight where in-flight Wi-Fi usage tends to be higher. Key improvements with ATG-4 are two modems rather than one and four antennas (two on the side and two underneath the plane).  The positioning of the four antennae enable the aircraft to search for ground-based cellular towers in all directions of the plane. This allows ATG-4 to deliver a peak speed of 9.8 megabytes per second rather than ATG-3's 3.1 Mbps speed.

Gogo test plane: ATG-3 antenna (left) and larger ATG-4 antenna (right)

ATG-4 should allow about 65 passengers to comfortably connect whereas the current system can accommodate about 22 passengers comfortably. The system is designed for web surfing, e-mail, online chats, Facebook status updates and tweets rather than streaming video because of the amount of bandwidth video requires.  If the system detects someone is trying to use Hulu or another video streaming service, their connectivity is automatically slowed down.  Gogo Vision is the product offered by several airline partners where passengers can pay 99 cents to watch a TV show or $4.99 to watch a movie where the content is onboard the plane for seamless streaming.

Virgin America "screw it, let's do it" plane equipped with ATG-4
(photos courtesy of Virgin America)
Virgin America was the first airline to begin offering ATG-4 on one of its planes, an airbus named "screw it, let's do it." Virgin America spokesperson, Abby Lunardini, says the name comes from a Richard Branson quote about being an entrepreneur. "We just installed, so don't yet have a great deal of guest feedback, however on testing we definitely saw improved speed and bandwidth," says Lunardini.

In-flight Experience on Gogo test plane

When I had a chance to compare ATG-3 to ATG-4 on Gogo's Wi-Fi test lab plane, I noticed only a slight improvement in connectivity, but I was taxing the system tweeting photos. While testing ATG-4, one tweet actually got away from me before I could attach an image. It happened so quickly that I didn't realize I had prematurely tweeted, so I suspect sending emails would be greased lightning fast.

Live monitoring of connectivity on Gogo test flight. Right two graphs show both vertical and horizontal signal strength from the two ATG-4 modems onboard.

Gogo introduces holiday Wi-Fi packs

On November 14, Gogo rolled out Gogo Holiday packs with discounted prices for either two or three all day Wi-Fi passes good on any of Gogo's partner airlines (including Alaska, American, Delta, Virgin America and US Airways).

One of the chief advantages to me of in-flight Wi-Fi is that it can allow me to complete work while traveling, so that I can truly disconnect when I reach my destination... unless I'm on deadline.

Additional detail for Aviation enthusiasts

Gogo anticipates launching ATG-4 Wi-Fi service on American Airlines and United's p.s. fleet in 2013. An American Airlines spokesperson confirmed that American's new planes would be equipped with Gogo's ATG-4 system. Gogo's Chief Technology Officer, Anand Chari, says they expect 500 planes will be equipped with the new technology by the end of 2013.

American Airlines was the launch customer for Gogo in July 2008. Shortly thereafter, Virgin America partnered with Gogo to install Wi-Fi systems on its entire fleet.

Paul Skrbec of Delta Airlines says: "Delta has more than 560 domestic mainline aircraft and more than 250 Delta Connection 2-class regional jets equipped with Wi-Fi. More than 400,000 Delta customers on more than 3,400 flights daily experience in-flight connectivity on the world's largest fleet of Wi-Fi enabled aircraft. Delta will install Wi-Fi on all of its international wide body fleet by the end of 2015."

"US Airways is installing the Gogo's new ATG-4 technology on our fleet of Airbus A319, A320 and A321 aircraft. We are excited to improve the inflight Wi-Fi experience for our customers with the upgraded ATG-4 technology. Once the installation is complete, US Airways customers traveling on our Airbus A320 family aircraft will see enhanced Wi-Fi capacity aboard the plane as well as increased data speeds for a more consistent browsing experience," says US Airways spokesperson, Davien Anderson.

At the moment, Gogo's statistics show an average of one to seven passengers connecting in flight with the highest usage on cross-country flights.  Virgin America's statistics are higher. In a survey the airline conducted, they found that between 30-40% of its passengers regularly use in-flight Wi-Fi.

All photographs by Terry Gardner, except the two noted which Virgin America contributed.

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