Gogo may need to delay the broad launch of its 5G network, which is working on open RAN principles. This time around, the company placed the blame on its chipset supplier, Airspan.
"One recent unfortunate development, the manufacturer of our 5G chip has just notified us of a new issue in late stage testing which could delay ramping up the full production volume until mid '23," Gogo CEO Oakleigh Thorne said during the company's quarterly conference call late last week, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. He said Gogo got a call from Airspan about the delay on Tuesday of last week (August 2).
"The chip is stuck in test mode and can't be moved to operational mode," Thorne explained. "The way these chips are built in multiple layers, test mode touches almost every layer. They have not been able to identify the exact source of the problem with their test mode; worst case would be a re-spin."
Thorne said that, if the chip needs to be reconstructed, Gogo's 5G launch might slip to the middle of next year. But if that can be avoided, the launch might happen sooner.
Beyond the delay, Thorne said Gogo is seeing significant demand for its 5G service, which delivers Internet connections to business aircraft. He said the network ought to boost Gogo's current in-flight Internet speeds, supported by a 3G network, by 5x to 10x.
Thorne added that everything else is ready to go for 5G. For example, he said 95 Gogo cell towers have been updated with 5G equipment, and the remaining 55 towers are poised to be upgraded soon.
Open RAN stumbles
Gogo is working to build an open RAN 5G network with mostly American vendors. The network will run in a 4MHz sliver of licensed spectrum in the 800MHz band, as well as an unlicensed chunk of the 2.4GHz band.
Gogo had hoped to launch its 5G network in 2021 but delayed that rollout due to problems stemming from the global chipset shortage. It then set a target of launching the network in the second half of 2022 – but now that timeframe has been again pushed back. The company is planning to spend around $100 million to launch 5G.
In building a 5G network using open RAN principles, Gogo joins a small but noteworthy group of operators. In the US, Dish Network and Inland Cellular are supporting open RAN. Dish, for its part, has been open about the difficulties it has faced in developing a nationwide 5G network using open RAN principles.
Open RAN technology promises to separate radio access networking (RAN) components into interoperable pieces, thus allowing different suppliers to connect their products together like Lego blocks. Such an approach represents a sea change to traditional, classical RAN architecture, which is typically supplied solely by a single, big vendor like Samsung, Huawei, Nokia or Ericsson.
But Gogo's network upgrade plans don't end with 5G. The company also is working to integrate support for low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites into its communications offering. That will allow Gogo to increase speeds for users and to offer Internet connections beyond the continental US, where it operates an air-to-ground (ATG) network for servicing aircraft.
Gogo earlier this year announced it would add connections from LEO operator OneWeb into its Avance platform, which can support multiple types of network connectivity onboard aircraft.
During his company's earnings call last week, Thorne reiterated Gogo's hopes for 5G and satellite connections.
"We're also very excited about partnering with OneWeb. They've launched 428 out of 648 satellites, and are ahead of other LEO constellations in achieving global coverage, which we expect will enable us to be first to market with a reliable product," he said. "There again, one network will deliver a significant boost in speed over our 5G product and is fully funded. And with their [OneWeb's] proposed merger with Eutelsat, they should be in a good position to fund their Gen-2 network, which will deliver an even bigger boost in speed, thereby giving Gogo advanced customers a very easy path to an order of magnitude improvement over the speeds...passengers experience today."
- Dish to apply for US government's $1.5B open RAN grant program
- Eutelsat, OneWeb join forces to launch beefed up European satcomms player
- Gogo, SmartSky take their 5G battle to the skies