If you’ve ever purchased inflight Wi-Fi in the United States, there’s a good chance you’ve cursed Gogo’s name. But now, you’ll have to direct your anger at Intelsat instead: it’s the new name of the consumer chunk of the inflight internet company.
Technically, Intelsat is also the name of that chunk’s owner, a bankrupt satellite operator that purchased the inflight internet’s consumer brand in 2020, at a time when both companies were struggling with the realities of travel at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gogo furloughed 60 percent of its workforce in April 2020 and laid off 14 percent of its workers that July.
The Gogo brand will likely still live on for “business aviation,” however, as Gogo Business Aviation, LLC is now a separate company with its “Gogo Biz” offering.
If you’ve had a crappy consumer Gogo experience, it may have been due to airlines not keeping the service up and running — I certainly remember a few flights where they never turned it on as planned — but it may have also been the limitations of Gogo’s aging technology.
The company relies on both a network of ground-to-air cellular towers and satellite connections to work, both of which can be spotty and slow: the cellular towers, in particular, only deliver a 3G cellular connection that has to be shared across the entire plane, one that topped out at 9.8Mbps per aircraft. While Gogo Biz was serving some 900 private aircraft with 4G by June 2020, its 5G plans have been delayed till 2022.
For consumers, the service’s 2Ku satellite connections have been far faster at up to 100Mbps per plane, but it still depends on how many passengers are using it: in 2016, I managed to hit 15Mbps and use the internet on four simultaneous devices aboard a Gogo test flight, but that was with only a handful of journalists aboard the plane.
Intelsat will compete with other established satellite providers and possibly with SpaceX’s Starlink, too. Last month, Starlink’s VP publicly revealed SpaceX is in talks with several airlines and is designing its own airborne antennas.