Another 5G Provider? Gogo Takes a Seat at the Cool Kids' Table

AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and... Gogo?

Yes, Gogo, the in-flight Internet service provider, officially put its hat in the 5G ring, announcing it will build a nationwide 5G network by 2021. Company officials cheerily pointed out that Gogo will launch 5G at roughly the same time AT&T and T-Mobile plan to offer their nationwide 5G services.

Of course, Gogo's 5G network is going to look, and perform, much differently. Whereas AT&T and T-Mobile are building 5G networks that are pointed at users on the ground, Gogo's 5G network will be pointed up at users in the air -- airplanes, specifically.

Gogo currently beams Internet connections to airplanes two different ways: Via satellites in space or via towers on the ground. In fact, Gogo has more airplanes connected to its terrestrial towers (1,694 commercial planes from the likes of Delta and United, as well as 5,348 private and business aircraft) than it has connected via satellite (1,100 total aircraft, with a current backlog of 900).

Gogo's current ground-based network spans roughly 250 towers across the US and Canada and works in the licensed 850MHz band. More importantly, it's still using the 3G standard (CDMA, specifically), a technology that's more than a decade old at this point.

Last year, Gogo was well into a 4G LTE upgrade of its terrestrial network, with more than 10 towers already installed, but had to cancel that project because it was using equipment from ZTE. If you remember, the Trump administration last year temporarily banned US businesses from working with ZTE, and Gogo's 4G upgrade efforts were caught in the crossfire.

Gogo ultimately abandoned its 4G upgrade plan with ZTE and now is plunging ahead with 5G -- without ZTE.

"We're not using ZTE for this network," said Gogo's Mike Syverson, SVP of engineering and operations.

Syverson declined to name Gogo's 5G equipment vendor, but he made it crystal clear that it's not ZTE.

So what exactly will Gogo's 5G network look like? Syverson said it will use unlicensed spectrum in the 2.4GHz band and it will use the official version of 5G (the 3GPP's Release 15 specification, to be precise). However, company officials aren't yet sure if Gogo will use the "standalone" or "non standalone" version of 5G. Gogo also plans to continue to operate its existing 3G ground-based network while constructing and launching its 5G network, likely using most if not all of its existing towers.

And what can Gogo users expect from the company's fancy new 5G network, coming in 2021? Company officials said Gogo's current 3G network provides speeds in the 1 Mbit/s to 10 Mbit/s range, and its forthcoming 5G network will supports speeds ten times faster. However, it will be up to Gogo's individual customers as to whether they want to upgrade their planes to 5G, as each plane will require a new receiver to access Gogo's 5G network.

But passengers on those planes won't need any special 5G equipment; receivers on all of Gogo's planes broadcast Internet connections to passengers through WiFi.

And how much is this all going to cost? Shocker: Gogo officials won't say.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

tweiss86 6/1/2019 | 10:41:27 AM
Gogo 5G Hi, Just to clarify, the 5G ground based network for CONUS/Canada/Alaska (current footprint) is totally separate from the SATCOM network, sorry if it was implied otherwise.  REF the "3G to 5G", that is within the context of Gogo's previous plans to use 4G in the 2.4GHz band that were interrupted by the trade brew-ha-ha with China. Enough time passed such that 5G is now a viable option in 2021. So, within that context, we are 'skipping' 4G. We are well aware of the status of SA vs NSA but as our CEO says we have alot of smart people working on that!
anshulgrover 5/31/2019 | 12:35:53 AM
Re: Strange choice I want to add up a couple of more points to this discussion:

  • The satellite communication, if used for wireless services have additional challanges of transmitting the wireless signals from an original 3G/LTE/5G base station or transponder to satellite without considerable atmospheric losses along with keeping the Layer1 characteristics (Channel Quality, HARQ) of signals intact. Given 5G may work with very high frequencies (mmWave) which have small distance travel capabilities, sending the signals to a satellite shall be even more difficult probably. The power level of signals may also need to be amplified for feeding to the satellites.
  • Gogo's claim that they may move from 3G to 5G directly may be impractical in today's scenario where most of the 5G solutions work in Non-Standalone (NSA) mode comprising of primary RAN node and complete LTE EPC as core backhaul. Given they don't have 4G infra in place, this becomes even more difficult. Better option would be to let Standalone 5G mature which may take couple of more years and adapt to it with baseline infra at ground for serving their on-the-air customers.
macemoneta 5/30/2019 | 2:56:10 PM
Re: Strange choice The LEO satelites are moving at 17,000 mph (per FCC filing), so the aircraft are essentially stationary to the constellation. At least in the case of Starlink, the phased array antenna are designed for tracking moving targets like aircraft, ships, and vehicles. They have to be, because the satellites are moving and handing off communications constantly.
Mike Dano 5/30/2019 | 2:41:01 PM
Re: Strange choice That's a good question. I don't know the answer, but I suspect it might have to do with the fact that planes travel really fast, and those low-Earth orbit satellites might not be able to keep up.
macemoneta 5/30/2019 | 2:20:33 PM
Strange choice Deploying short-range infrastructure nationwide to try to communicate with aircraft at up to 6.6 miles of altitude seems like an odd choice. Why not forego the infrasructure cost and use a satellite constellation like Starlink or OneWeb?