In the ever escalating race to provide faster global in-flight internet connectivity Vietnam Airlines, Gogo and Inmarsat have announced an agreement this week which puts them atop the pack. The carrier has chosen Gogo as the service provider to manage the installation and operation of Inmarsat’s GX Aviation service on most of their A350s and their 787 Dreamliner fleet. The installation is expected to begin in 2015, pending the completion of the GX satellite launches and final negotiations on the service contracts. There have been talks of “several airlines” committing to the GX Aviation platform, though none were named. Until today.
The GX Aviation product is based on Inmarsat’s Global Xpress satellite array. The first of the three units is already in orbit and providing regional connectivity services over most of Asia, Africa and Europe (the green section below). The second and third satellites necessary to complete the constellation have seen their launch delayed due to failures of other launches at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kasakhstan. The satellites were planned to be in orbit in late 2014 but those dates have slipped and it remains unclear when the launches will take place. Once the array is complete it will offer high speed Ka-band connectivity across the globe.
The announcement is significant because Vietnam Airlines is the first carrier to commit to a significant deployment of the GX Aviation solution. Previously Air China signed on as a test partner for Honeywell, the on-board hardware provider for the GX product. Similarly, Gogo and Air Canada announced a test of the service on one of that airline’s 787s. But Vietnam Airlines is committing to the solution for their new long-haul fleet, not just testing or trialing the service.
It is also worth noting that the GX Aviation solution is not the only high-speed global offering expected to be live in the coming months. Gogo also plans a Ku-band solution offering higher speeds at lower costs thanks to more efficient antennae licensed from Thinkom. Their 2Ku solution could provide similar performance using existing satellites rather than waiting for new ones to be launched. Still no ETA from Gogo on when that is expected to enter service.
This news all points to more and faster in-flight internet connectivity and theoretically lower costs as well. That’s very good news for passengers, even if the live version of these services is still a hazy target date somewhere in the future rather than a deliverable product today.
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