Earlier this week, Gogo invited investors and media members on a demo flight aboard its 737-500 testbed aircraft. The airplane, affectionately known as “The Jimmy Ray” (Reg: N321GG, MSN 26455), departed from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in order to test out the company’s latest upgrade to their 2Ku system.
Late Tuesday morning, we gathered in the lobby of the Hyatt Union Square in Manhattan and left by bus to EWR at 11:00 a.m. Upon boarding the bus, we received very nice Timbuk2 messenger bags, filled with a variety of accessories by Anker, along with some Gogo-branded treats. Once we got to EWR, we parked at the Signature Flight Services FBO, where we were served lunch before our flight.
The first of the two flights given that day was for investors. Once they landed, the media group was given a short briefing by the Intelsat VP Sales – Americas, Mark Rasmussen.
“Gogo is setting a bar here that we are privileged to be a part of,” said Rasmussen, remarking that Intelsat was proud to be a part of the showcase of what has come to fruition for Intelsat’s Epic program.
After the preamble, the media members boarded a shuttle bus that would take us out to the remote stand at which the Jimmy Ray was parked. Along the way, we saw a couple of beautiful private jets, including the striking 737-BBJ, VP-BRT, owned by Roustam Tariko, President of Russian Standard vodka, as well as United’s first Boeing 777-300ER, known as “The New Spirit of United” (N233IU).
After finding my seat in the very front of the plane, I connected my Apple iPhone 6S and Apple MacBook Pro to Gogo’s 2Ku network. Once airborne, pretty much every potential social and streaming application was successfully tested.
I opened Netflix on my Apple MacBook Pro, where I opened and streamed “The Secret Life of Pets” for several minutes. It only took about ten seconds to get the stream going, and it was crystal clear. I also watched a live spacewalk being broadcast from the International Space Station via YouTube, which was sharp and flawless throughout. It really struck me how I could be flying five miles high, while astronauts hovered above me, doing their work at a distance that would only take four hours to reach by car.
Of course, I tested the speeds produced by the 2Ku system. My go-to app, Speedtest was not functioning normally, so I used another site, fast.com. My tests on Fast ranged from 31-49 Mbps, which exceeds Gogo’s goal on providing 15Mbps for each seat. For me, it’s not about the network speed, but more importantly, whether the system allows me to accomplish the tasks I need to perform.
Onboard the flight, I spoke with the Intelsat VP Investor Relations and Corporate Communications, Diane Van Beber; asking how the Intelsat partnership with Gogo makes 2Ku a better product.
She said, “What we’ve said from the outset when we started with the Epic program, which are the high throughput satellites that we’re putting into place, is that there are three things that are going to determine performance in an environment like this on a plane. Having the high-powered satellite capacity. It’s also continued investment in the ecosystem, meaning the modem and antenna, taking all three of those things working together. It’s really determining what’s going on inside the plane here. So the fact that Gogo has innovated on the ground segment, on the 2Ku antenna pushed their supplier to develop a high-performance modem that goes along without high throughput capacity. It’s a perfect recipe to get really outstanding results.”
Gogo EVP and CEO, Anand Chari, told me the Intelsat High Throughput Satellite (HTS) brings two major benefits: “More capacity globally to various regions. It is very efficient improves cost structure adding capacity at a lower cost. It adds capacity in areas that matter, high traffic areas. The good news about HTS is that they’re not launching to provide basic coverage vs some customers. We have [access to] 150+ satellites in global coverage with plenty of redundancy. We can scale bandwidth and serve everybody in every seat, delivering a great experience.”
The satellite to which we were connected during our demo flight belonged to Intelsat, named IS-32e. It’s a high throughput satellite that covers the U.S. eastern seaboard all the way from the Caribbean across the northern Atlantic to the UK and southern Scandinavia.
Our flight on Monday afternoon was only the fifth flight ever to use the combination of 2Ku along with Gogo’s new Gilat Taurus modem and Intelsat HTS bandwidth.
Currently, Gogo 2Ku can be found on 170 aircraft of different carriers, such as Air Canada, British Airways, Delta, GOL, and Virgin Atlantic. There are about 1,600 planes in the backlog for 2Ku installation, which will be accomplished over the next two years.
The author’s travel and lodging were compensated by Gogo, but all accounts of the flight are at the author’s sole discretion.