Gogo says its satellite costs have dropped 60 percent, hints at OneWeb LEO constellation deal
PARIS—Airline connectivity provider Gogo Inc. said satellite bandwidth costs have dropped by 60 percent in the past two years as high-throughput spacecraft near launch and Gogo leverages its status as an increasingly large customer.
Gogo has signed major capacity deals with fleet operators Intelsat and SES. The company has made a selling point of the fact that its Ku-band 2Ku technology, unlike Ka-band systems offered by competitor ViaSat Inc., among others, enables Gogo to move back and forth among satellite providers to find the best deal.
In a Feb. 25 conference call with investors, Gogo Chief Executive Michael Small said Gogo’s flexibility extends to using any of the Ku-band low-orbiting satellite constellations now planned or in development.
He hinted that Gogo would soon be signing a capacity agreement with OneWeb LLC of Britain’s Channel Islands, which is scheduled to start launching a 700-satellite constellation in 2018 using Ku-band for a global Internet service.
“The constellations will have tremendous advantages in terms of latency and coverage,” Small said. “You can expect to hear an announcement from us soon.”
During the conference call, Small sought to turn the bad publicity surrounding a now-withdrawn lawsuit by a major customer, American Airlines, into a defense of Gogo’s business strategy.
On the legal side, Chicago-based Gogo has made amends with American Airlines, which has threatened to move 200 of its Gogo-equipped planes to ViaSat’s service based on performance but has dropped its lawsuit.
Gogo has until March 20 to give American Airlines a 2Ku-based proposal, after which it will be up to the airline to determine whether to sign on with ViaSat for these 200 aircraft or stick with Gogo.
American Airlines is Gogo’s second-largest commercial airline customer, accounting for 22 percent of the company’s commercial airline revenue in 2015, second only to Delta Air Lines’ 28 percent.
American’s Gogo-equipped fleet totaled 963 aircraft as of Dec. 31, 2015.
Small said American’s decision “validates what I have been saying for quite some time. Making the right connectivity decision matters to airlines a lot. What really matters is that they don’t make the wrong decision.
“American is right: Our first-generation technology, which is still more than adequate for certain aircraft, is not cutting it today for some of their aircraft. The American Airlines decision is a strong message that single-technology solutions are not only passé, they are risky.”
Gogo’s current air-to-ground service, which has been fitted onto 1,439 commercial aircraft in North America, delivers 3.1 megabits per second to a given plane.
The company’s upgraded ATG-4 air-to-ground system, on 948 aircraft as of Dec. 31, 2015, delivers 9.8 megabits per second.
Both of these are too slow for much video streaming and Gogo is moving toward satellite connectivity as a result.
The first Ku-band Gogo satellite service, on board 200 aircraft, advertises up to 40 megabits per second of throughput to an aircraft.
The company says its 2Ku service can pull down more than 70 megabits per second to a plane from a conventional Ku-band satellite. The same 2Ku hardware can handle more than 100 megabits per second when transmitting via high-throughput satellites with multiple spot beams.
Gogo’s introduction of 2Ku has not gone as quickly as expected, in part because it must secure national air-traffic regulatory approval for each new aircraft type and each new airline. It then becomes an issue of how quickly airlines decides on a technology partner and takes a revenue-generating aircraft out of service to be fitted with higher-speed connectivity.
“Airlines were uncertain,” Small said. “They want to make the right decision. It is so invasive to make installations on planes.”
In 2015, Gogo said, it outfitted more than 1,900 planes with one or another of its connectivity options but 2Ku, which was supposed to see a substantial rollout in 2015, is only just now starting.
Small said Gogo is now in the middle of 15 separate Supplemental Type Certificate applications for various Boeing and Airbus aircraft models.
By the end of 2016, 75 commercial aircraft in North America should be flying with 2Ku, Small said, a figure that should quadruple to 300 by the end of 2017.
Small suggested the current competition between Gogo, ViaSat, Panasonic Avionics, Global Eagle Entertainment, Thales/LiveTV, Inmarsat and others to sign up airlines should settle out into a clear picture of survivors and also-rans by the end of 2016.
He said the bigger players have an advantage in being able to secure satellite bandwidth contracts at lower rates.
“We were thrilled with the SES deal,” Small said. Gogo has described it as a multi-gigahertz-level commitment. “We’ve literally seen our estimates of the cost of bandwidth fall by two-thirds since we initiated the 2Ku project. That’s the advantage of an open architecture: You can take advantage of the progress they [satellite fleet operators] make.”