These past 18 months have been busy for Gogo. On 24 August 2017, Gogo Business Aviation announced FAA Supplemental Type Certification (STC) and Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA) for the dual-directional antenna required by its AVANCE L5 system, effectively heralding a new era in business and VIP aircraft connectivity through its Gogo Biz 4G network.
At the time, Gogo expected to deliver AVANCE L5 equipment from first quarter 2018 and, on 13 June, it revealed that the 200th L5 installation had flown. With expectations of completing as many as 500 L5 installations by year end, Gogo has also started building its Next Gen network and is flight-testing the new technology, evaluating its performance. According to Gogo, the Next Gen network will use a proprietary modem, a new beam-forming antenna and unlicensed spectrum. It will utilise LTE technology and leverage Gogo’s existing North American network and infrastructure.
While Gogo Business Aviation’s air-to-ground (ATG) portfolio for CONUS has expanded to include four primary hardware options – AVANCE Smart Cabin Systems (SCS) Media, AVANCE SCS Elite, AVANCE L3 and AVANCE L5 – plus a variety of network solutions based on the company’s 250 antenna towers covering the US, parts of Canada and Alaska, it’s also extending to satellite coverage for global connectivity. The result is a comprehensive customer offering Gogo will be showcasing during October’s NBAA-BACE show in Orlando. Additionally, Gogo will be highlighting its cybersecurity capabilities, a subject on which Mike Syverson, SVP of Technology
and Operations, has particularly strong views.
“We’ve seen lots of connectivity providers jumping on the cybersecurity bandwagon lately and the difference between Gogo and the rest of the market is that we’re a vertically integrated player; from being the network operator to the design and manufacture of the equipment and software. Data security is something we’ve had at the forefront of everything we do. It’s built into the Wi-Fi solution we put on the aircraft and into the design, deployment and backhaul of our network and our NOC [Network Operations Center] – and we’ve been doing it for more than a decade. We’re an end-to-end cybersecurity provider – it’s in everything we build. We have a much higher level of service and security as a result.
“Keeping our customers’ data safe is a top priority. Cybersecurity isn’t an afterthought for us – our security is built in, not bolted on. Unlike any other provider of connectivity in business aviation, we own the connectivity experience from end to end: we own and operate our own network, the towers, backhaul and spectrum. We own and operate our data centres, and we have two, which provides redundancy for added security and reliability. And, since we manufacture our systems, we own what goes into those as well – no one else can say that.
“Are cybersecurity threats in our industry real? Yes, they are but that doesn’t mean you should be paralysed by fear. You have to be sensibly safe and take the same measures to protect your data in the air as you do on the ground.”
Gogo’s ATG network serves thousands of commercial airline and business aviation customers over North America. Gogo has built its reputation on this unique network and it is for this that the company is perhaps best-known. Yet its Business Aviation products reach globally, as Lisa Peterson, SVP, Global Marketing & Digital Strategy (IoT), explains: “We have a three-pronged approach to serving our global customers. First is 2Ku, where our satellite network has been providing global connectivity for VVIP aircraft and the airlines.
“Second, we’ve announced the deployment of a new Ku product aimed at the business aviation market. The Ku network leverages an open architecture, which means we aren’t limited and can add capacity by expanding our commercial agreements with the satellite providers. We can also deploy high-throughput satellites [HTS] faster than anyone else. And third, we’ve announced an agreement to be a service provider and value-added manufacturer for Iridium Certus, allowing global coverage for smaller airframes and the opportunity to provide safety services.
“It means our international product offering will include Certus, the Gogo Business Aviation Ku system, which is in development, and our 2Ku system for VVIP aircraft. Add that to our ATG offering, the tools we’ve built into the AVANCE platform that all of those network systems will leverage, and there’s no other company that can provide the level of global service Gogo delivers.”
Designed for optimum results across the Gogo network, the AVANCE systems are essential enablers to the company’s connectivity. The AVANCE platform is a software-rather than hardware-centric product enabling features not seen in the market today. The software-centric design allows for the system to provide better performance, enhanced predictability capabilities and visibility into its performance. Installed as a compact set of hardware and software under STC, the product range opens the door to comprehensive service, customer support and diagnostic capabilities.
Customers have the option of adding considerable functionality to their existing ATG 1000/2000/4000/5000 systems through the standalone AVANCE SCS Elite and Media products, enabling them to “…better manage and deliver their existing data and voice services via advanced WAN and router functionality. We consider SCS Elite the ‘King of the cabin’ solution, while SCS Media enables easy, affordable inflight entertainment and information services.”
For those seeking further optimisation, AVANCE L3 and L5 suit somewhat different applications, but Peterson confirms that both include all the features of SCS Elite and SCS Media, avoiding the need to install both the L3/L5 and SCS ‘boxes’. Designed to operate specifically on Gogo’s ATG networks, L3 and L5 provide in-cabin connectivity and entertainment through Gogo Vision. “As Gogo deploys Ku for business aviation the AVANCE platform will also be the heart of the system connecting to the Ku network.”
Peterson notes that L5 and L3 offer different experiences designed to meet different needs. “In short, L3 is designed for smaller aircraft or for business travellers who simply want email and/or light browsing. L5 is designed for much heavier use, for larger aircraft with more people on board. It has streaming capabilities and can enable video conferencing. I suggest L3 delivers something like a 3G experience while L5 delivers a 4G experience.
“Generally, AVANCE L5 customers are looking for more robust services, particularly streaming, while AVANCE L3 is great for individuals looking for basic internet and email. And given the slightly smaller size of the hardware and its service plan options, we’re seeing a higher AVANCE L3 uptake in the light jet and turboprop segments. The L3 system has attractive and affordable service levels from as little as US$99 per month.”
Once an AVANCE system is installed, future functionality and updating are achieved through software rather than hardware changes, a fact Peterson says leaves the platform “…extremely flexible and scalable, even customisable to an individual user. For example, if an aircraft equipped with L3 is sold, the new owner can select the profile they need without changing out hardware. But for me, one of the coolest qualities of the AVANCE platform is that it’s among the first real examples of the Internet of Things [IoT] in aviation.
“Sensors in our AVANCE units detect problems in ‘real time’ and report them directly to Gogo technicians. Obviously, our goal is to have no issues, but if there are any, we want to know about them before they become a problem for the users on the aircraft. And it’s important to note that customers have a real-time window into their AVANCE system. They can see which software version they’re running, which features are enabled, and monitor their system’s performance. If they want to change service plans or add capabilities, they can simply contact Gogo Customer Support and it’s done, quickly and easily.”
DASH to the future
Thanks to AVANCE, Gogo is already offering to fix issues before customers are aware they have them, a futuristic capability that Peterson admits is having “…a big impact on our bottom line, because we’re not having to send out a technician at every issue. And it’s having a big impact on the bottom line for our customers too, because they no longer have to ground an aircraft while we resolve an issue.”
As more information becomes available, Peterson explains Gogo has recognised that its business aviation customers want visibility into the connectivity systems and networks on their aircraft, so they can see and resolve issues as quickly as possible. And they want visibility for personnel on the aircraft as well as for operations personnel on the ground.
Gogo delivers this capability through its DASH product, featured at this year’s NBAA-BACE. DASH can be accessed in two ways: via the DASH mobile app for iOS, launched in July 2017, or through the DASH ground portal, which recently launched, and offers more in-depth monitoring and analysis by personnel on the ground. DASH provides visibility into system health aboard the aircraft and the networks available, as well as enabling access to the Gogo Vision inflight entertainment catalogue.
“The DASH ground portal was built for the technical personnel responsible for monitoring and resolving connectivity issues aboard an aircraft or fleet. It’s web-based, device agnostic and provides a rich toolkit. It provides near-real-time information on system and network status, and even lets them see how much data is being used in aggregate and by device type on the aircraft,” Peterson says.
“They can monitor information by specific aircraft tail or report on aggregate performance of a fleet. DASH provides the tools and visibility needed to speed issue resolution by the customer or, if necessary, it gives them and Gogo technical support the information needed to diagnose a problem and solve it.”
Having founded its business aviation product on an extensive, proven ATG network, Gogo now faces imminent competition in the US ATG market. Peterson’s reaction? “We welcome others to this space. With more than 25 years in the business, we know how difficult it is it deliver a product that meets the demands of this audience. It’s a complex business and we believe we are well positioned to compete not only today but well into the future. We have a roadmap, we have a network, and we have the platform to enable the future of connectivity.
“Something that impressed me from day one about Gogo was the relentless pursuit to anticipate our customers’ needs and issues. With AVANCE we now have a platform that will allow us to innovate rapidly. Couple Gogo’s infrastructure with its talented team and you create a winning combination for today and the future.”