Why GoGo In-flight Wi-Fi Is Garbage

28 Comments

Earlier this morning, when I got on a plane to visit Orlando, Fla., I thanked my stars when I found out that I was on a Delta (s dal) flight with GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi. I had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m. to get to the airport and as a result was behind on my emails, tweets and blogging. A live connection would allow me to do it all. Once the plane was at cruising altitude, I signed up for the year-old GoGo service via a 30-day pass that cost me $30. Being the first one to sign on, I enjoyed a decent speed for the first 30 minutes or so, at which point the connection became unusable. GoGo became Oh no!

Why? Because more than two dozen people are sharing what is essentially a 3-megabit connection. I’m getting download speeds of 390 kilobits/second at best, and the upload speeds are even worse. I could handle slow speeds if the latency wasn’t so dismal; in various tests it ranged between 165 milliseconds and 275 milliseconds. I wonder how GoGo is going to offer movie downloads on its pokey little network. The arrival of LTE-based wireless broadband could change everything, of course, but I’m not holding my breath.

And therein lies the Achilles’ heel of in-flight broadband — for GoGo in particular. As more people start using the service more often, the end-user experience is going to degrade. And because GoGo uses cellular connections for backhaul, it can’t really go faster than the speed of cellular networks, which are notorious for their lack of latency. I think as more and more of our applications start demanding a semblance of “symmetric” broadband, services such as GoGo will start to lose their usefulness.

OK then — back to reading. This Wi-Fi thing clearly isn’t working out.

28 Comments

Beaux nana

A complete rip off. Wanted to watch Netflix in flight. No go a complete WASTE of money,

Matt L

I am using GoGo right now at a snail’s pace going to VEgas from Atlanta on a Delta flight. I am getting:
DOWNLOAD .015MBPS
UPLOAD .08MBPS
PING 570MS

Absolutely pathetic and it will not do anything besides load a web page every few minutes. I found/waited for this one trying to find some help on this. My laptop is top notch, too.

GoGo is an absolute waste of money.

George Tharalson

I have never had any trouble with Gogo. I fly from Sacramento to Seattle enough, and it was just introduced on Alaska Airlines this past summer. I have never lost connection, never had any trouble with speed or any trouble surfing the internet.

Maybe it’s not as fast as we can get at home or the office, but consider the alternative. Last year at this time, I had no chance to surf the net above 10,000 feet.

I don’t fly enough to justify the monthly pass, but $5.00 a trip works just fine.

John

I use it constantly, and it is fantastic. I am not watching streaming video on the connenction. Usually I am listing to streaming radio talk shows while using the IM or an SMS client. I have done video IM’ing before – really just to see if it would work. It did okay. I expected it not to work and it did work. I have used skype phone calls, although it seems they have found a way to block those lately. Again – just to test. I would hate to sit next to others talking away on the phone the whole flight. I generally just use my iphone. Occassionally if I have a roomy seat I break out the laptop.

Gogo inflight internet is wonderful. Bandwidth will come as the need for it increases.

Scott

I love the go-go! Do I wish it was faster – of course, but it did turn my 3.5 hour jaunt from CLT to PHX so much shorter and more productive. Download a movie, no chance. Upload a big PPT, no thank you. Email, works just fine!

merk

GoGo InFlight is horrible. I tried Netflix on an AirTrans flight and the playback was completely unusable. I chatted with the GoGo support and they explained they INTENTIONALLY downgrade your bandwidth when they detect streaming of any kind. (.1 Kbps) Ripoff?

Derek Kerton

Um…you’re gonna have to lower those expectations a notch or two. Netflix on a plane?!?

You take the app (streaming movies) that has got every cableco and telco on the planet worried that it will fill up their terrestrial fiber pipes, and expect it to work on an airplane?

For you, I have to re-recommend the Louis CK clip:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LkusicUL2s The whole clip is good, but check at time market 2:10

Dominic

I have to say, I used GoGo twice in the past week on four total legs of an Airtran flight (MCO to DIA through ATL). Honestly, it was pointless and I feel like I wasted $26. I was hoping to watch some episodes on HULU but that didn’t pan out as it had to buffer every 15 seconds for like 2 minutes. Clearly not designed for streaming video. OK, so let’s listen to Pandora… NOPE. Kept timing out, too! OK, so now I’m desperate – let’s do homework on the course compass site (this should work, right? – it’s just a flash app that shows you problems). I’d work a ridiculous calculus problem only to be notified on submission: “WARNING: Server cannot be contacted, your work WILL NOT BE SAVED”. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I did some research as to what GoGo was really (and this worked, albeit slowly)… Basically, it’s a series of 91 cell phone towers aimed up at the sky. It’s 3G shared amongst a whole airplane. This doesn’t seem like a very viable long-term concept. Maybe I’m “greedy” as others have suggested, but this is the age of streaming video, etc. At a minimum they should put a prominent disclosure somewhere on the sign up screen IMHO.

DAN KATZ

Are you familiar with the Wi-SKY Inflight DataLynk? We have done demo flights at 45 megabits per second to every plane in the sector! We can downloan a 2 hour movie in 2 minutes! We can make SKYPE calls, downlaod large files, etc. Our launch airline will be announced shortly. I can send you more information, and also welcome the opportunity to speak with you about all that we have accomplished. Please feel free to contact me at the above email.
Thank you.
Dan

Brett Glass

JD, you find me dialup at 400 Kbps and latency of 160 ms and I’ll sign up right away.

As an ISP myself, I can tell you that all of my customers EXCEPT the bandwidth hogs value consistency over raw speed. They want everything to come in at a reasonable pace — no widely varying speeds — regardless of whether it’s “prime time” or not. So, our ISP has CIRs, or committed information rates — in short, guaranteed minimum download capacities from the backbone. They’re what our rates are based on. Now, backbone bandwidth here is expensive ($100 per Mbps per month), so to be able to afford these commitments we have to make them reasonable: 256 Kbps on a connection that goes for $30 per month. But they’ll never slow down to dialup speeds as they will on a congested cable modem network. And they’ll burst faster at times when we have the bandwidth to spare.

As for the inconsistencies in the GoGo service: if they’re using Squid as a caching proxy, it is probably the cause. The reason is that Squid itself will hog bandwidth and congest the line during cache misses.

JD

I’ve uploaded a bunch of jpegs to Twitter showing horrible latency and speed. Sorry, but anything below dialup speeds is absolutely not “wifi in the sky”. Latency speeds of 160 are totally common, and so are downloads below 400kbps. Sorry, but when I work on the plane I will probably need to have an email and web browser open at the same time…GoGo’s service is barely usable and timeouts for data uploads are common. Streaming? Oh please. It’s a disaster.

I wouldn’t be nearly as disappointed if GoGo would simply advertise themselves what they offer: dialup speeds with web browsing that rivals the responsiveness of five years ago.

Scott Swanson

Totally agree on the speed part, it is basically unusable for anything but chat and barely email. Though admittedly, it was less aggravating when it didn’t cost $12 though (thanks Google).

Sure you can’t steam video or have a conference call, but it is still way better than nothing. I notice now when I’m on a non-GoGo enabled flight.

Om Malik

Guys

First of all, thanks for your comments. I am typing this out on a Blackberry app for WordPress so it might have some mistakes.

  1. I am using it for email and IM and twitter. I wanted to upload one photo – 71 kbs and kept getting timed out, and gave up. So my complaint/rant was mostly driven by the fact the very basic web tasks are tough to do at this speed.

  2. The connection is showing speeds that is much slower than I experienced.

  3. I know I shouldn’t be complaining, given that it is WiFi in the Sky, but $30 is still money.

  4. Raymond, the plane was a new Boeing. I think 757.

  5. Brett…ouch I didn’t realize that I was only adding to the bottle neck for others. Oh well, one lesson learned today.

Mike

If GoGo is having service issues now, what will it be like in 1 year when there are 3X the number of planes on the network and airlines start offering this for free? You should assume these speeds need to last for at least 10 more years. Just look at the old tape drives and CRT screens still on planes.

karl Bunch

I used gogo from LAX to JFK in December and it was pretty good for ssh, IM and email.

Also realize it utilizes a Squid proxy to control bandwidth hogs, so if you run the test you most likely will get very random results. I did a bit of port probing etc while I was on the plane to figure out how it was all setup.

There were a couple places where it dropped connection but in general it beat the heck out of being offline for 6 hours.

I’ve used 300 baud modems for full production support before, it blows me away how spoiled we’ve all become to think its bad to have TWO T1’s in an AIRPLANE flying across the united states.

Adam

I have to agree with Brett, sd, and Mike. I only have wireless broadband at home and it generally suits my needs, so 390 kbps is more than enough for me. Since I rarely fly more than one roundtrip per month, I would rather have a cheaper service. I don’t mind lower speeds as long as the connection is stable.

Derek Kerton

390Kbps? That sounds great, considering your speed, altitude, and location. When I run speed tests of specific websites from my 16Mbps cable connection, most websites serve me data at about…390kbps. That means you should have a near best-case experience for one-site-at-a time browsing. Yes, the latency would be a small issue. Hopefully your browser is pulling content elements down in parallel, not in serial fashion.

That speed is excellent for browsing, email, IM, blogging, and I’d be happy if that was an option on the flights I take.

The latency is just beyond what is acceptable for 2-way streaming such as video or voice calls, but I don’t think that is the thirst that GoGo is intended to slake.

Om, you TOTALLY need to watch this clip of comedian Louis CK on Conan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LkusicUL2s
The whole clip is good, but check at time market 2:10

Mike Puchol

I think it’s time they implemented tiered quality services. Eg. pay $60/mo and get a piece of 2Mbps. Pay $30/mo and get a piece of 750kbps. Pay $10/mo and get a piece of the remaining 250kbps. Of course, less people are willing to pay $60 than $10, so everyone who is not in a rush to multi-task several internet-connected apps (say, check email) will be OK with the slow speeds, and power users will get a more comfortable speed.

I think I’ve heard this before, related to the airline business…ah yes! It’s called “First”, “Business” and “Coach”!

Vivek

Echo with Mike Pichol said.

This just means that GoGo needs to increase their price. Simple supply and demand right? They have a valuable product that some people are willing to pay for – and they need a natural way to limit the number of users. Increase the price – until bandwidth/technology catches up.

sd

I used the GoGo service once and was quite impressed by the ability to achieve such low latency (100-200ms) and decent bandwidth, uninterrupted, while in the air. I was able to keep (and use) SSH sessions throughout the entire flight without being disconnected.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a few dozen people to share 3mbps; in fact, my previous workplace of 40 people shared a 1.5mbps DSL line with few issues. It’s just a matter of shaping the traffic properly.

I suppose you’ve never used the “13€ per 3 hour” wifi on an European train before; if you think sharing 3mbps is bad, try sharing a fluctuating 3G/EDGE connection with a dozen other people and 2000+ ms latency :)

Brett Glass

P.S. — If everyone on the plane were running the speed tester you show in your screen, the network would SURELY bog down, since those tests — by their very nature — hog bandwidth.

Brett Glass

Om, the problem has nothing to do with “symmetry.” It has everything to do with bandwidth hogging by users and the applications they run.

390 Kbps is far more bandwidth than is needed to engage in ordinary Web browsing, stream audio, or even stream pretty good non-full-screen video. (Perhaps you were trying to do too many things at once or were running an application that hogged your share of the bandwidth.) And latencies of 200 ms, while not super-fast, are quite reasonable given the logistics of delivering bandwidth to a moving plane.

Methinks the real problem is that people are greedy. They expect (and run software that expects) infinite amounts of bandwidth at zero cost — and expect providers to be able to get backbone capacity and wireless spectrum at zero cost (which they can’t).

Shah Ullah

Om, do you think it was the folks watching video that contributed most to clogging up the pipe? It would be neat if GoGo partnered with large video providers (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Brightcove, others) to potentially cache popular content locally, freeing up bandwidth for others. — Not a terribly innovative solution, but maybe a bandaid in the short term?

Jagibson

I find the service a little spendy but even at it’s slowest speed, I’ve been successfully browsing and getting my emails taken care of. I would hardly say it’s garbage though, at least, not through my iPhone. Posting using gogo from Seattle to Atlanta ;-)

rloughery

Have to agree with you my experiences using GoGo have been good enough for emailing, IM’ing and browsing to pass the time… both from my computer and from iPhone

Peter

I think you mean to say this differently: “which are notorious for their lack of latency.”

Considering you’re flying at 500mph+ and most of the country used to be on dial up not very many years ago, things could be worse than having 3.0mbs on a plane, right?

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