Gogo promises faster in-flight Wi-Fi in 2013

The battle between satellite systems and ground-to-air cell tower technology is heating up, and frequent fliers stand to benefit from faster speeds.

In-flight wireless provider Gogo is stepping up its game with ATG-4 tech (that’s air-to-ground) on 25 aircraft across three airlines, Delta, US Airways, and Virgin America. ATG-4 tech delivers at peak speed 9.8 Mbps, which exceeds existing cell tower-to-air speeds of 3.1 Mbps.

If you’ve ever needed to access work files or check e-mail mid-flight, you know the hiccups and slow speeds typically associated with sky-high Wi-Fi.

To offer faster speeds, Gogo will add two directional antennas, one on each side of the plane, and dual modems on the aircraft in addition to EV-DO Rev. Btech on both the air and ground sides of the network. The company has already upgraded its 150 ground towers in preparation for the widespread roll-out of ATG-4 connectivity. It plans to install the faster tech on hundreds of planes by the end of next year.

The downsides of Gogo’s faster service include higher prices on some flights ($18 for a single-flight pass versus the $10 of yesteryear) and no media streaming (still).

An alternative

Many of the major airlines, such as Delta, AirTran, and Virgin America, rely on Gogo for Wi-Fi, but JetBlue is experimenting with ViaSat’s satellite system, which promises to deliver up to 12 Mbps per passenger.

JetBlue is installing the technology, which will be free in some 30 planes in its fleet, and will roll out its satellite Wi-Fi early next year.

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