And what it'll take for the next big leap in inflight Wifi

Beaming a slow internet signal from the ground to an airplane moving upward of 500 mph is hard on a good day. It takes dozens of towers on the ground, satellites in the air, and hundreds and hundreds of people just so you can check your Facebook status at 30,000 feet — and tell people you're checking your Facebook status from 30,000 feet.

Getting the next generation of in-flight connectivity up and running? That's another matter entirely. A few weeks ago we spent the day with Gogo — the company that brings the bulk of the bytes to your Boeing or Airbus, to say nothing of the countless private business jets — at its headquarters in suburban Chicago to see just a fraction of what it takes to get things done. The short version is that we're moving from beaming signals from towers on the ground for domestic flights, and from satellites for overwater, international jaunts, to a combination of both as well as dual satellite links for the next generation of connectivity.

We're still a little ways away from that, though, so in the meantime we'll make do with what we have. But rest assured that simply making do isn't good enough for Gogo. Here's how it works.


Reader comments

Online at 30,000 feet: How Gogo gets you connected in flight


My average speed with them was 10-20kbs (gave them quite a few chances). So I definitely wanted to know how do they "make it happen". And of course when you ask for money back, you can't get it from the company you are flying with but they refer you to GoGo.
It's interesting for how long they have been kept in business, because in a few years of operating (what i experienced) it was nothing but scam. If you can't provide functional service so not offer it or sell it (8$ in advance). Not for once I was able to use it and of course to get the money back was not as easy as giving them.

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Dont think they give **** about you on a domestic flight.. Think the same connection you shared with maybe 50 other people or more, on a small businessjet and you get an idea og where they make their money.

I think there's a pretty big difference between not giving a shit and providing an affordable product, especially when you get a look at the customer service end of things, which we did.

Funny how quickly we become jaded at 30,000 feet, eh?

(That said, faster whyfyes, nao!)

Sorry to hear you had a bad experience. I fly frequently enough to have purchased the monthly plan and while the speeds are not great, the connection itself seems stable for the most part and I can even VPN to our servers at work to be able to get some tasks done while mid flight. They do warn you that streaming videos won't work and I have to imagine it's due to the slow connection, but overall I haven't had much of an issue so I can't call it a scam.

True, it's not the speeds you'd get while on the ground but then again, no one promised those speeds.

Good stuff. I hope things keep improving. I was pumped to have Gogo on my flight to St. Lucia a few weeks ago until I discovered it wasn't actually working on our flight... the sake held true for the trip back.

Total bummer.

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Seems like a technically interesting if personally useless article.

Unfortunately (on the app at least) it ends at "here's how it works" :/

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The meat of the info is the video, which is a pretty cool and simplified 7 minute rundown of how the service works and what the company is up to.

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Yeah, it was a really cool tour and just way too much to cram into one video. Definitely learned a lot though, and it's going to help keep me from bitching when it's not working great.

Video is pretty interesting however (even though I haven't tried personally yet) everyone I know who has had it offered on their flights so far has nothing but issues, if it works at all. So I'm very excited to see what happens with this if they can really get what theyre anticipating.

I think it's important to remember that that most folks just don't say anything when products work as advertised.

Best example of this? The BlackBerry Storm. Best thing to ever happen to the CB forums, ya know? ;)

For me, I have found it unnecessary to call or text for most hours during most of the time. Moreover, the vast majority of people don't want an obnoxious phone talker near them in a captivated setting. The check out at a grocery store can be bad enough. A chatty roommate or spouse can prompt aggravation.

This type of service may be useful for hedge fund traders and corporate executives on private jets yet they may already have the necessary satellite services.

Agreed, I have never seen anyone use the phone call service but gogo WiFi data services are definitely not ready for prime time. In my experience, speeds are painfully slow and barely useable for email. Most of these services run on a satellite network from inmarsat which is slow, however, they are working to deliver higher speeds with their new xpress KU band network.

Yes, getting and responding to corporate emails 24/7 may seem to be of importance to some, yet in the video they were talking about the capability of receiving in flight Voice over Internet phone calls using your regular cellular phone numbers.

Fortunately, the vast majority of people on commercial flights will strenuously object to people talking on their phone. And as such, in flight phone calls isn't going to happen.

I too make flight time go quickly by easily being able to sleep in boring restricted conditions. Thank goodness.

Good point, I didn't even think about that. Having someone barking into their phone next to me on a plane would seriously piss me off. I like what they're doing, though. Hopefully they can deliver quality data soon.

When I'm on flights I just watch downloaded movies on my Nexus 7
Posted from my Nexus 7 2013 running Android L or Samsung galaxy S5

I just download stuff ahead of time if I know I'm going to fly since it's a lot easier and it saves more battery to street in airplane mode while flying

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Last time I was on a plane (couple of years ago) they went around making sure all electrical devices were off and warned it was critical to the safety of the plane that they remain so.

Now they're allowing WiFi? That's a complete U turn - unless they've redesigned the planes completely in the space of a few years.

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During take off and landing or when notified of extreme issues like turbulence when buckled seat belts are required, potential flying objects must be stowed.

Otherwise electronic items have been permitted to be used for many many years. Of course anyone forgetting or allowing their device to attempt to acquire a cell signal (not in airplane mode) at even a moderate speed and altitude will significantly drain their battery.

One can toggle airplane mode on and then toggle on wifi.

"check your Facebook status" Has the author ever used Facebook before? Nobody goes online to check their status or even anything they did. They go online to check what other people have done.

Also, their was very little that was done in the video that couldn't have been done as straight text. Next time bulk up the video or leave it as text. Better yet do both.

I'll remember that the next time I'm a journalist.

Using web browsers on phones isn't the most smooth of operations. For instance, I missed the correct usage of "their".

Phil, check out JetBlue's flyfi service. I worked on the product and it's superior to gogo's in terms of speed and reliability from what I've heard. They didn't show it in any of the comparison charts in the video from what I could see see, and in their exponential curve of progress, they also left off the technology flyfi uses.
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