Gogo, the in-flight Internet provider, might have mediocre service on most U.S. flights, but it knows how to court journalists.
You have probably seen a bunch of stories recently on how Gogo will soon introduce its new service, a satellite Internet option called 2KU. It will deliver 70 megabits per second to the plane, giving it eight times more capacity than today's typical U.S. Gogo service. The current domestic service relies on ground-based cell towers, and, as you know, it can be slow.
In reporting a story for Aviation Week, I recently went on Gogo's test plane, a Boeing 737-500. Here's some what I learned about 2KU.
- If you live in the U.S., you'll see system on Delta flights starting next year. Delta has committed to adding it to roughy 250 planes.
- The system is fast enough for you to stream from Netflix or Amazon. But that does not mean airlines will permit it. Streaming consumes a lot data.
- 2KU is not quite as good as you get on the ground, but it is close.
- Airlines can choose an option that allows passengers to watch live TV on their own devices
- Gogo would like American, United, Virgin America and Alaska to upgrade to the system, but it is just as concerned with signing up new customers outside the United States.
On Thursday, Gogo demonstrated 2Ku for reporters aboard its Boeing 737 test airplane—dubbed Jimmy Ray, after the company’s founder—with two flights around Indiana. Two dozen aviation and technology reporters trooped aboard Jimmy Ray with an arsenal of gadgets, eager to hurl the most data-intensive activities—Netflix, Facetime, YouTube, Periscope—at Gogo’s new technology. It was a small horde of “data-hungry journalists on board all trying to kill the system,” said Jason Rabinowitz, manager of data research for Routehappy, a travel startup.
Gogo’s new product acquitted itself admirably, with high-definition YouTube videos streaming just fine. The biggest hiccup on the test flight appeared to be page-load latency, a bit of a hesitation before many Web pages loaded. Once loaded, they worked fine, too.
I was on the flight, and took some pictures. Here is what it was like.
Gogo has its own Boeing 737-500 with a fancy paint job.
We picked it up from Gary/Chicago International Airport in Northwest Indiana. The aircraft was built in 1982.
Once on board, we had a full safety demo.
There are both comfy first class seats and the regular coach seats pictured here.
When the media is not onboard, the aircraft is used for regular test flights.
We were able to stream from Netflix and Amazon. But the plane also had a live tv platform through Gogo. For the test flight, there were only two stations - Bloomberg News, and this one showing hockey.
Here are Gogo's engineers. They spent much of the flight looking nervous.