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The next generation air-to-ground (ATG-NG) inflight connectivity network from Gogo is officially back in development. The project, rebranded as “Gogo 5G,” is expected to be available beginning in 2021. The system will operate with both licensed and unlicensed spectrum to provide the best possible performance and redundancy for aircraft owners and passengers. CEO Oakleigh Thorne hinted at the renewed plans for the ATG-NG network as recently as the company’s most recent earnings call just three weeks ago.
Gogo 5G is the next step in our technology evolution and is expected to deliver an unparalleled user experience, pairing high performance with low latency and network-wide redundancy.– Oakleigh Thorne, CEO of Gogo
The company expects that the new ATG network will support the business aviation market as well as commercial regional jets and even smaller mainline aircraft that remain within the coverage area of the US and Canada.
Any spectrum, anywhere
The initial Gogo 5G network deployment will include use of the unlicensed 2.4 GHz range to augment the company’s existing, licensed spectrum that sits in the 800 MHz range. That is the plan for today, but Gogo is building its new network to go well beyond that range.
The company claims support for a mix of licensed, shared and unlicensed spectrum, as well as the ability to use “all spectrum bands (mid, high, low)” on its new platform. The company’s current licensed spectrum and unlicensed 2.4GHz range would typically be considered as low band. Mid-band covers the 2.5-3.7 GHz range, mostly used today for C-band broadcast services. Millimeter wave frequencies fill in the high-band range.
In addition to the new communications channels the Gogo 5G network will continue to support the existing ATG infrastructure, offering a layer of redundancy – albeit with less capacity – for the communications.
The 5G play
While spectrum dominates the mainstream conversations around 5G technology Gogo will also take advantage of other 5G components in deploying the new platform. Things like beam-forming for the communications between the tower and the plane are 5G-related. So are some of the network virtualization concepts. The ability to use wider channel bands of frequency in a single communications link is as well. In that context Gogo 5G will deploy some 5G components, but it will not be a completely 5G network.
Mike Syverson, SVP Engineering for Business Aviation and the project leader for the Gogo 5G rollout, highlights improvements in the modem design with respect to the 5G standards. He is particularly keen about the flexibility that the new system will offer for future developments:
A lot of things have evolved around the modem technology that didn’t exist a couple years ago. We’re really comfortable about what this does getting us into the future and what it allows us to do 3-5 years after the initial implementation period. Frequency and spectrum drives performance and so as telecom evolves it is about squeezing the best performance out od that spectrum. The technology that we’re implementing allows us to do that and to adapt to potential new opportunities that become available. Our ability to limit the impact to in-cabin and network changes is much more scalable than it was when we launched this project years ago.
The company indicated that Gogo 5G would launch in 2021. The product is expected to go live with full coverage across the existing service footprint, but Syverson would not confirm that all the existing towers would carry the new radio hardware. Indeed, he noted that the network topology design work is ongoing and that some new towers may be required to deliver the services on the levels desired.
The important thing is to think about this the way carriers are thinking about this: we have an anchor network and we will leverage both networks to ensure that we’re delivering the best network for customers. Our customers expect the connection to work all the time; that’s why we believe this is the right way to do this. – Mike Syverson, SVP Engineering for Business Aviation
The company also announced a commitment to “provide easy upgrade paths to 5G for existing Gogo air-to-ground customers,” with the ability to reuse much of the AVANCE wiring infrastructure where it exists. Syverson described a broad rand of upgrade paths that the company is discussing with customers, many of which will involve more significant hardware swaps to take advantage of the new Gogo 5G platform.
The relatively near-term deployment plan could create pressure on AVANCE sales today, as some customer choose to wait for the next generation upgrade. The company faced a similar situation with the AVANCE product launch and expect some to continue with the currently available products. Gogo also confirmed that it is in conversations with customers about ensuring the upgrade path remains open and well documented for those sales.