Everybody who uses in-flight Wi-Fi tends to complain about the slow speeds, lost signals and so on, but if travelers can hang on a bit longer, it looks like significant improvements are coming. Gogo, one of the leading providers of the service, just inked a big new satellite deal, and a European consultancy sees a bright future for the technology, which is spreading to more aircraft and more airlines.
Gogo said it has signed “one of the largest satellite capacity deals ever” in the commercial airline market with a satellite operator called SES, in order “to meet the growing demand for high-speed in-flight connectivity.”
The deal will give Gogo access to a pair of SES satellites due to be launched next year that will cover all of North America, Central and South America, the Caribbean and the North Atlantic. A third satellite, also due to launch in 2017, will expand Gogo’s coverage to flights over Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Russia.
“This deal will dramatically increase bandwidth and drive overall costs per bit down by orders of magnitude,” Gogo chief technology officer Anand Chariu said. The satellites will provide “high throughput spot beam and wide beam capacity,” the company said—in other words, much greater bandwidth and download speeds. And airlines already signed up for Gogo’s 2Ku technology will be able to transition to the newer satellite service “without any equipment modifications.” The new satellites will also increase capacity for Gogo’s live TV product, Gogo TV. Gogo has been gradually transitioning its service from ground-based to satellite-based technology.
Gogo’s news comes on the heels of a recent lawsuit filed against it by American Airlines, which sought to invoke an escape clause in its contract with Gogo so it could look for faster Wi-Fi service from other vendors. The suit was dropped this week after Gogo said it wouldn’t challenge American’s plans, and that it expected to give American a better proposal of its own.
Earlier this month, the global consulting firm Euroconsult issued a report predicting that revenues from passenger connectivity services on airlines will grow from $700 million last year to $5.4 billion within a decade. It said that the number of connected aircraft jumped by 21 percent just in the 12 months of 2015, and that the ongoing launch of “high throughput satellites” (HTS) including Ku- and Ka-band “is expected to be a game changer in the in-flight connectivity market.”
“HTS systems will not only tremendously increase data speeds to the plane compared to regular satellite systems, but will also significantly lower costs, thereby further driving the adoption of IFC (in-flight connectivity) services,” said Euroconsult’s Geoffrey Stern. “With more airlines opting for cabin connectivity, companies that have not yet made a decision will be increasingly pressured to offer such services to match their competitors.”
The company said it expects that over the next decade, the number of connected commercial aircraft will grow from 5,300 to 23,100, or 62 percent of the global fleet.
Some airlines are already feeling the pressure. Air France, which has long been a holdout against in-flight Wi-Fi, said last week that it has changed its tune, and will start putting the technology into its international fleet later this year. The French carrier is said to be looking into a model like that in the hotel industry, which would provide basic service free to its passengers, while charging a fee for higher download speeds.
Meanwhile, Qantas said this week that in 2017 it plans to deploy free Wi-Fi for passengers on its domestic Australian routes, thanks to a partnership with ViaSat that will offer “speeds up to 10 times faster than conventional on-board Wi-Fi, giving customers the ability to stream movies, TV shows, the latest news bulletins and live sports.”
NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble