Internet provider Gogo announced plans to take 5G to the skies of North America starting in 2021. Gogo says the new 5G service is being designed to power Wi-Fi in smaller flights on commercial airlines smallest of the continent. States and Canada, even smaller regional jets of those companies, and also in business jets.
Gogo says that it will essentially graft the 5G network into the 250 towers that the company currently rents to power its Air-Ground (ATG) Service. Most commercial aircraft equipped with Gogo (in airlines such as Delta) still predominantly obtain their Internet connections from these ground stations, to the sum of 1,881 of 2,551 in North America at the end of 2018, according to the most recent annual financial report of the company.
The 5G connection will be sent to the aircraft through a combination of unlicensed 2.4GHz spectrum, a "proprietary modem" manufactured by Gogo and advanced beamforming technology. The company says it will support "all types of spectrum (licensed, shared, unlicensed) and bands (medium, high, low)" in an attempt to improve Gogo's ability to improve speed and bandwidth capabilities as 5G technology advances.
Planes with 5G capacity can still use Gogo's 3G and 4G connections as backup. In an email to The Verge, Gogo communications director Dave Mellin said the company will first implement 5G technology in "some towers" for testing, but could not say when that will happen.
Gogo has also spent the last years equipping airplanes with the ability to connect to the Internet through satellites, and at a fast pace pretty fast. While in 2016 only 59 commercial aircraft equipped with Gogo used satellite internet, the company recently reported that the number increased to 670 by the end of 2018, with connections provided by a combination of satellites from SES, Intelsat and others. In the business aviation sector, Gogo uses satellite internet (provided by Iridium) in about half of the more than 10,000 aircraft for which the company provides connections.
One of the reasons why Gogo has moved towards satellite Internet is that it can be less problematic than terrestrial connections. Most complaints about Gogo are often about connection interruptions and slow speeds. The ATG system is quite susceptible to these problems, especially when an airplane changes from tower to tower, or when several aircraft connect to the same tower.
That said, Gogo, which has not made a profit since it went public in 2013, said in its 2018 financial report that the evolution of the ATG network is crucial to the company's success, especially since it currently has limited capacity . "If our next generation ATG solution does not work as expected or if its commercial availability is significantly delayed compared to the deadlines we set, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected," the company wrote.