5G eclipsed by LEO, LTE networks at Gogo – Light Reading

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Officials from Gogo, an in-flight Internet provider, said the company may have to delay its 5G launch – again.

The latest delay may push Gogo’s 5G network launch into 2025, which would represent a four-year delay from the company’s initial goal of offering 5G services at the end of 2021.

Likely as a result of the delay, Gogo officials have started downplaying the importance of 5G. The company is also working to launch global satellite-based Internet services via Eutelsat’s OneWeb low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite network in a program Gogo calls “Galileo.” The LEO offering is scheduled to be available in the fourth quarter of 2024.

“I think we’ve always felt that Galileo was probably the bigger opportunity in the end,” Oakleigh Thorne, Gogo’s CEO, said during the company’s recent quarterly conference call in response to a question about Gogo’s ongoing 5G delays.

But alas, Thorne said 5G is still important to Gogo.

“There’s just a lot of medium-size jets … that only fly in North America that [are], you know, frankly, a little more cost-conscious than other flyers. And they’re not all that excited about putting on a more expensive satellite system, so for them, 5G is going to be important,” he explained.

Gogo has said its 5G project – which will cover much of the airspace of the US – will eventually cost around $100 million and will boost customers’ speeds by a factor of 5 to 25. The company ultimately plans to offer both 5G and LEO satellite connections to its customers in North America and internationally.

More testing

Gogo officials said the company’s latest 5G chip was scheduled to go into fabrication this month, but a bug was identified that will require a “minor” hardware redesign. As a result, the new design must now be tested before it can be sent into fabrication.

Due to this latest hiccup, Gogo now expects its 5G launch to be delayed “a few months” past its launch goal of the fourth quarter of 2024. The company said it will provide a more firm launch timeline this summer. 

Gogo officials said the company has started flight testing its 5G service using an field programmable gate array (FPGA) simulation of its 5G chip.

Company officials declined to name the vendors involved in its latest 5G delay. But Gogo executives have previously said that Airspan is the company’s 5G radio vendor, and Airspan is using chips from GCT, which is based in San Jose. Samsung is fabricating the GCT chips.

A quiet move to 4G LTE

Gogo operates an air-to-ground (ATG) wireless network spanning roughly 250 cell towers across the US and Canada. The network has been primarily running on the 3G standard (CDMA, specifically), a technology that’s more than a decade old.

Prior to disclosing its 5G plans in 2019, Gogo had intended to upgrade its 3G network to 4G LTE technology. Indeed, it had already installed 4G equipment on at least ten towers.

But Gogo had to cancel that 4G upgrade project because it was using equipment from China’s ZTE. US government officials believe such equipment can be used for Chinese spying, though officials from ZTE continue to reject those claims.

Regardless, the FCC’s “rip and replace” program is designed to finance the removal of Chinese equipment from US networks, and Gogo has so far received about $132 million through the program. It’s now using that money to upgrade some of its customers to a faster 4G LTE service.

“We anticipate this subset of customers will see improved performance because of this network transition, which is expected to occur in early 2026,” according to Gogo’s latest annual filing with the SEC.

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