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Airplane Wi-Fi Should Soon Be Somewhat Less Awful

Source: Gogo

For years, people have cursed lousy, expensive Wi-Fi on airplanes, with most of the ire directed at Gogo, the largest player in the field.

Soon there may be fewer f-bombs dropped at 35,000 feet. Gogo is maturing into the world of broadband satellite coverage in a technology shift that will offer fliers greater bandwidth and vastly broader geographic coverage.

“Bandwidth equals revenue. Bandwidth equals better customer service,” Chief Executive Officer Michael Small said in an interview at Gogo’s downtown Chicago headquarters. “It’s literally that simple.”

The new system is called 2Ku, because it offers two antenna arrays to receive and send on the Ku band spectrum. Gogo says its system protrudes only 6.5 inches above the airframe, reducing drag.

On Thursday, Gogo demonstrated 2Ku for reporters aboard its Boeing 737 test airplane—dubbed Jimmy Ray, after the company’s founder—with two flights around Indiana. Two dozen aviation and technology reporters trooped aboard Jimmy Ray with an arsenal of gadgets, eager to hurl the most data-intensive activities—Netflix, Facetime, YouTube, Periscope—at Gogo’s new technology. It was a small horde of “data-hungry journalists on board all trying to kill the system,” said Jason Rabinowitz, manager of data research for Routehappy, a travel startup.

Gogo’s new product acquitted itself admirably, with high-definition YouTube videos streaming just fine. The biggest hiccup on the test flight appeared to be...