When it comes to inflight connectivity, there are essentially two main types of networks: satellite and air-to-ground (ATG). So why choose one type over the other?
In this blog we’ll explore why ATG delivers very distinct advantages over satellite for many business aircraft. You’ll see why network speed and baseline service plans are important, but you need to dig deeper to find out what’s right for you.
But first, here’s a quick look at the top 4 reasons why many business aviators choose ATG over satellite:
Gogo ATG uses ground-based towers (think cellphone towers) to make a direct broadband data (internet) connection to and from the aircraft and tower. On the aircraft, small belly-mounted antennas make the data connection and onboard systems enable the cabin and flight deck experience. Gogo is the only ATG network exclusively serving business aviation across the entire continental United States, plus portions of Canada and Alaska. Beyond the network, Gogo is a vertically integrated company, meaning that it is the designer, manufacturer, and service provider of both the ground-based systems (towers) as well as the airborne systems (installed aircraft equipment.)
High performance satellite connectivity (such as JetConneX and ViaSat) delivers an internet connection between an aircraft and satellites. Satellite data travels from the aircraft to the satellite, down to a ground-based station and back. On the aircraft, most satellite solutions require larger antennas located on the top or tail of the aircraft, while onboard systems also help drive the experience. Satellite connectivity solutions offer regional to near global coverage depending on the service provider satellite coverage areas. Satellite solutions often times have different hardware providers and services providers depending on the solution types.
Let’s start simple: both Gogo ATG (4G now and the upcoming 5G network) and modern high-performance satellite offerings give you similar speeds that will allow passengers to do everything from video conferencing and streaming to email and “office in the sky” tasks.
But here’s the rub: the speed you see promoted is only one piece of what makes inflight Wi-Fi work as fast and reliably as passengers demand. It’s better to think of performance as an equation: one involving network speed, system technology, latency, data and voice capabilities, plus support services.
So, while network speed and data capabilities are comparable between Gogo ATG and satellite, only Gogo ATG checks all the other critical boxes: providing aviation’s only true technology platform (AVANCE), low latency, the world’s best voice capability, and faster deployment of support services via cloud-based technology.
Latency is a trendy tech word. But few really know what it means or how it impacts the Wi-Fi experience. In simple terms, latency is the time it takes for data to be transferred between its original source and its destination. In aviation, this means the time it takes for data to go from, say, a passenger laptop, through the aircraft antenna to reach the network source (i.e. the ATG tower or the satellite), do a u-turn, and go back to the passenger laptop. ATG towers are usually about 120 miles from the aircraft, while current satellite solutions tend to be 22,000 miles away from the aircraft. That's a big difference.
For activities like email, that network “lag” may not be very noticeable, but if you’re holding a video conference, using corporate VPN, streaming content, doing a Facetime session with your family, or making Wi-Fi calls, you’ll see a noticeable delay that can make the experience frustrating or even difficult to use.
So it’s easy to see how a network that’s closer to the aircraft will “feel” faster to the end-user (i.e., the executive in the cabin). Special note: with the upcoming Gogo 5G ATG network, latency will be virtually non-existent.
Much like network speed, the cost of connectivity service plans gets a lot of visibility in the market. But it’s important to not only understand what your service plan actually delivers, but also that service is only one piece of your overall connectivity cost.
Installation of the necessary equipment is also a significant financial decision factor for most operators. While costs do vary, installing high-performance satellite equipment will generally cost significantly more than ATG solutions due to the complexity of the installation and intricacies of different radome technology.
We also encourage customers to dig deeper into a provider’s service plans. While the “per month” cost may seem affordable, few satellite providers offer truly unlimited data plans: and you can get hit with eye-poppingly high data bills because you went over your usage. Gogo ATG, on the other hand, does offer a wide array of flexible service plans, and we are the only one to offer an unlimited “Pro plan” because operators like predictable costs.
One other consideration: Gogo’s AVANCE systems all come fully-integrated with Gogo Vision 360 inflight entertainment. When the work is done, passengers can relax with unlimited movies, TV programs, digital magazines and a premium 3D moving map. The service is a flat fee and unlike streaming services such as Netflix and ESPN+, which quickly use up data from your service plan, Vision doesn’t incur any data usage or costs over the live network.
Beyond the upfront and service cost differences between satellite and ATG, equipment size also has an impact on solution suitability.
Satellite throughput is typically a function of antenna type and size. To achieve the data rates touted by satellite solutions, you need a large antenna. These antennas typically have constraints around installation location and power requirements – constraints that aren’t favorable or even feasible on all but the largest of business aircraft. ATG solutons (system and antennas) are much smaller than satellite: meaning you can confidently install ATG on just about anything from a turboprop to a heavy jet and generally with far less installation complexity.
Much like the relationship between the smartphone you buy and the network you select, your connectivity experience has to take into account the system that drives it all. How many LRUs do you need to create the experience you want? Does it all integrate and work together? Does the system only give you Wi-Fi or does it do more? Is there an STC for your particular aircraft? All of this matters.
That’s why Gogo built its ATG system – Gogo AVANCE – to be the first fully-integrated technology platform available for business aviation. Just like a smartphone, AVANCE is a singular system that gives you absolutely everything you need to take full advantage of the network, products, services and applications.
There you have them: ATG’s very real advantages for the majority of business aircraft that fly their missions in the continental United States. So what's the next step towards adding aviation's smartest connectivity to your aircraft? It's simple, just use our interactive Solution Finder tool to answer a few questions and instantly see the right Gogo AVANCE system for you.
Download our eBook to learn about the technology, best practices, and value of inflight Wi-Fi.
Download the ebook to learn how the Gogo 5G network provides seamless, redundant connectivity across the U.S. and Canada.
Talk to a connectivity consultant