Want fast Wi-Fi speeds at 35,000 feet? Get on a Virgin America flight. The carrier announced that it is the first to offer the faster ATG-4 inflight Wi-Fi service from Gogo across its entire fleet. The new hardware offers speeds of up to 9.8 Mbps, which is three-times than that of Virgin America’s first-generation system.
ATG-4 uses directional antennas and dual modems on each plane to achieve the faster speeds, in addition to enhanced EV-DO technology on Gogo’s air-to-ground (ATG) networks. One reason why Virgin America can achieve a faster rollout (besides having just 44 planes in its fleet currently) is because ATG-4 is backward compatible, and it’s a lower-cost upgrade for the airline since it can utilize the existing hardware already installed.
Virgin America isn’t the only airline to offer Wi-Fi, but it’s the only carrier to offer it (and other tech amenities) consistently across its entirely fleet – it’s the winner of our “most tech savvy airline” award. The company boasts about being the airline of Silicon Valley, but ATG-4 is just a stopgap until even faster Wi-Fi is ready.
Last year, Gogo announced that Virgin America will be the launch partner for Gogo Ground to Orbit (GTO), a hybrid system that blends satellite technology with its ATG infrastructure. While 9.8 Mbps might be fast for ATG, it’s pokey for those of us used to faster speeds on the ground. GTO changes that: It will push speeds of up to 60 Mbps, and Gogo says its GTO setup, which uses both Ku-band satellites and ground technology, is more efficient and requires less fuel burn than strictly satellite systems. However, sources tell Runway Girl that Virgin America may even skip GTO technology entirely and opt for Gogo’s upcoming 2Ku satellite-based technology instead – an even faster system.
While the ATG-4 news is interesting, it’s the future we are looking forward to. Many airlines have already started retrofitting aircraft for faster satellite Wi-Fi, and Virgin Atlantic (Virgin America’s British cousin) announced it will roll out Gogo’s 2Ku technology in 2015. Perhaps finally, we can then stream YouTube and HBO Go videos to our iPads up in the air.