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Aircell Upgrades Gogo Inflight Wireless Links

I've used Gogo's inflight Internet service on several Delta flights since it was introduced. Except for one bad experience (free trial), for the most part I've found the service works well. I haven't tested it with videoconferencing, but a passenger sitting next to me on a cross-country flight had no problem conducting a Skype video conference with his wife. Last week, Aircell, the provider of the Gogo inflight wireless service announced two major improvements to the service.

The company says that its new ATG-4 (air-to-ground) service will improve its per-aircraft capacity by approximately four times that available with its current ATG service. ATG-4 uses a directional antenna, as well as dual modem and EV-DO Rev B technologies to increase bandwidth.

Aircell is also adding a Ka-band satellite option. (Row 44, Aircell's main competitor, uses satellite links.)

I've used it on a cross-country Southwest flight and have had no problems when Web-browsing and e-mailing, although I suspect satellite latency would have made VoIP or videoconferencing difficult. The advantage of using satellites for service is that there is no ground station dependency. Aircell says this will allow them to supplement its ground-based capacity and will also enable Gogo service beyond the continental United States. Aircell said it expects Ka-band band technology to be available in the continental U.S. in 2013, and globally by 2015.

More details will be released later, but I expect I will still be able to enjoy some time being completely disconnected while crossing the Pacific. While many satellites have spot beams over Hawaii, few have coverage over the open ocean.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.