Expensive and slow Wi-Fi connections may be the norm when you’re stuck in an airplane cabin, but in 2014 Gogo, the country’s largest provider of in-flight connectivity, is going to make your wireless connection faster, though probably not cheaper.
Gogo unveiled its next-generation aircraft connectivity service on Wednesday, promising to boost data beyond the dial-up speeds most passengers experience today to multimegabit connections. Gogo is calling the technology GTO, or Ground To Orbit, and it uses a combination of satellite links and long-range transmission towers on terra firma to deliver up to 60 Mbps to a high-flying plane. The network will be ready in the later half of 2014, and the first Gogo customer to commit to the service is Virgin America.
Before you get too excited, keep in mind this is shared bandwidth, so if there are 100 people on the flight trying to tap into the Wi-Fi network, individual connections will still be constrained. But given Gogo’s prices that’s rather unlikely to happen.
While Gogo’s users and the company’s revenues are growing steadily, only about 6 percent of all airline passengers are actually logging into the network when available. Satellite broadband analyst Tim Farrar has pointed out that this is a far lower than Gogo or Wall Street had projected, showing that airplane broadband remains confined to an elite group of business travelers. The general flying public is generally unwilling to pay more than $10 a pop for crappy connectivity.
Don’t expect that business model to change radically when the new faster network comes online, though more of those elite users will be willing to shell out their money (or their companies’ money) if they can get decent speeds.