What keeps airlines from shifting from one inflight connectivity solution to another? Contracts are certainly part of it, but so is the significant cost to update and replace hardware on the planes. Gogo has a plan that could ease such pain.
Just swapping to new modem technology proved a major undertaking for many Panasonic Avionics customers, and that gear was entirely inside the aircraft. Changing out bits of the antenna makes for an even more challenging sales pitch. Sure, there are some standards for mounting the gear on the fuselage, but the costs and complexity of that type of project makes it much less likely.
As Gogo continues to entertain the idea of Ka-band satellite solutions, however, it is looking for a way to ease such a transition. The company is now confident that it can convert its Thinkom 2Ku antenna solutions to a “2Ka” offering instead.
During its recent Q1 earnings call Gogo CEO Oakleigh Thorne highlighted the potential for such a swap as one of the bright spots for the company, amid the mess that is airlines grounding so many of their aircraft:
We worked with our supplier on a way to pull out the Ku discs and replace them with Ka discs. There are a couple LRU boxes inside the aircraft that would need to be swapped out as well but it doesn’t require any change to the structure of the aircraft. You’re not taking the antenna superstructure off… It is a pretty easy conversion for those who want to go from Ku to Ka. That’s a new development on our part and one that gives us a lot of flexibility in spectrum use in the future if Ka ends up being a preferred spectrum by our customers.
Swapping from 2Ku to 2Ka is “pretty easy”
The plan is rather simple. Each 2Ku system has a pair of antennae bolted to the mounting plate. Those are removed and replaced with the smaller Ka-band version. The main difference between this and Thinkom’s regular Ka2517 solution is that the conversion would require an adapter between the the Ka-band antenna and the Ku-band mounting plate to account for the different diameter of the platters. The conversion also requires replacing some components in the avionics bay to handle the shift in spectrum. Very light touch work, akin to swapping out the modems.
The solution is not all that different from some legacy, gimbal-mount antenna designs that allow the aperture plate to be swapped out, keeping the rest of the mounting system in place. To that extent the concept is not groundbreaking. But demonstrating such flexibility is useful when it comes to selling the product. Airlines do not want to be tied in to a technology platform when installing hardware on the aircraft.
While that’s nice in theory, the bigger question is whether the flexibility will benefit airlines in practice.
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