In October of 2019, Gogo announced we would deploy a 5G nationwide network dedicated to business aviation. At the time, no other company in business aviation anywhere else in the world was building a 5G network – and no other company has since then.
With demand for bandwidth and faster speeds continuing to increase, Gogo identified the need to upgrade to 5G – the latest wireless technology available. Gogo’s 5G service is expected to deliver average speeds of ~25 Mbps with peak speeds in the 75-80 Mbps range.
“Gogo 5G is the next step in our technology evolution and is expected to deliver an unparalleled user experience, with high performance.”
Gogo’s CEO and Chairman
When we announced we would build a 5G network, the news was well received by the industry because Gogo had a proven track record as a trailblazer in business aviation building two previous air-to-ground (ATG) networks. The first was our Gogo Biz network built in 2008 followed by the Gogo Biz 4G network in 2016. The two networks are comprised of more than 250 towers spanning the continental United States and parts of Canada and Alaska. With the world watching, we boldly took on the 5G challenge.
As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day; nor was Gogo’s 5G network. Little did we know that six months into the process, the world would turn upside down. The five-letter word starting with C touched every aspect of everyone’s lives everywhere in the world – our communities, families, and global businesses. In particular, the pandemic drove a new reliance on staying connected, using video conferencing, and remote productivity tools. That’s why we believed in our Gogo 5G network mission and remained determined to get it built on schedule.
For Gogo’s 5G network construction, the pandemic’s most significant impact came in the form of supply chain obstacles. With the network requiring thousands of necessary parts coming from six different vendors and five different countries across three continents, the task at hand was daunting. With suppliers using skeleton crews and severe delays with every mode of shipping, how were we going to get the radio modules needed for all the towers in time?
Our team chose to think outside the box to find solutions that helped our suppliers and in turn got us closer to the finish line. Chetan Godbole, Director of New Product Introduction (NPI) and Global Supply Chain, juggled the logistics of shipping radio modules from locations around the globe to Los Angeles, and finally to Dallas. In Texas, our trusted supplier packaged the modules and scheduled their deployment to tower sites across the country. Typically, the shipping would take four to six weeks, but at the height of the pandemic, it was taking 12 to 16 weeks.
Exploring all alternatives, Godbole came up with an innovative approach -- breaking up the six radio modules needed for each tower into smaller boxes and sending them via air with the global shipping company DHL, instead of using cargo ships, thus shortening the delivery time to only five to six days.
Air mail was only one example of creative problem solving and executing on a brilliant Plan B. There were countless other roadblocks the Supply Chain team encountered and successfully resolved along the way: international border closures, ships that were stuck anchored off Long Beach and Oakland for weeks, and procurement of parts.
At one point, our manufacturer in Vietnam didn’t have Intel chips, which were a necessary component for the radio units placed at the base of each tower. Godbole and the Supply Chain team searched the globe to find other options and miraculously secured the essential chips in Germany. Those chips were then shipped to Vietnam to complete the construction of the radio units – essential to the antennas.
Building the Gogo 5G network was a complicated puzzle and supply chain was only one piece. There were many other elements that produced hurdles the deployment team had to overcome in the installation of the towers, including spring snowstorms in Texas that caused power outages, extreme temperatures in the Mojave Desert in August, multiple flat tires on remote mountainsides in Idaho and California, and encounters with dangerous animals like rattlesnakes.
To prepare, the Field Operations team enrolled in a week-long mountain and backcountry awareness training in 2021, well before starting the installation of any towers. This course instilled the practice of Stop, Think, Plan (STP), which was applied to every tower site that the team encountered. Since every member of the team needed to be ready to operate in extreme environments from mountain to desert climates, the group learned about the fundamentals for survival which included how much food and water to carry, clothing needed for fast-changing weather conditions, wildlife precautions, and many other techniques designed to keep our team alive and safe if unplanned challenges occurred ... which they did.
"Our team has seen it all. From getting stuck in the mud, a tree that has fallen over the access road, extreme heat and cold, impassable roads due to high levels of snow, and coordinating a snow cat or helicopter to access a mountainside tower site."
Director of Field Operations and Deployment
Throughout 2020-21, our engineers thoroughly tested both base station tower antennas and the on-aircraft MB13 antennas; meanwhile, the Field Operations team continued working diligently with local, county, and state officials to ensure the successful acquisition of sites for all 150 towers.
In June 2021, we kicked off the deployment with our first tower in Nebraska. By the end of 2021, Gogo had completed seven sites that served as a testbed in both remote and populated locations to validate that the network operated as designed in all types of environments.
During the next 10 months, the Gogo team installed another 143 towers, sometimes building two to three sites per day. To put this Herculean effort into perspective, here are some statistics to consider:
On October 17th, 2022, in a remote area in Oregon, the 900th antenna was installed on the 150th tower, completing the project on schedule. Via livestream video, Uribes at the final tower site and Gogo’s President and COO, Sergio Aguirre, shared with the world, the completion of the nationwide 5G network at a celebration event during NBAA-BACE in Orlando.
This historic milestone marked the first and only 5G network dedicated to aviation. “Our team was tenacious and overcame a host of issues to build a new network of 150 towers nationwide – and they did it in less than 12 months. It’s remarkable what our network deployment and field operations teams have accomplished,” proudly said Aguirre at the NBAA ribbon cutting event.
From the field, Uribes added, “I can’t express enough how this never could’ve happened without the right people, the right team, and with the right mentality. It came together very quickly despite a multitude of challenges, but the team’s determination never wavered.”
Gogo's CEO and Chairman, Oakleigh Thorne, celebrating Gogo 5G launch at NBAA-BACE Orlando
Oakleigh Thorne CEO and Chairman commented, “We have always been dedicated to bringing the best IFC in the industry. That started a long time ago with our original systems then 3G, 4G, and now 5G. The bandwidth has improved all along the way. The next thing is Global Broadband. We’ve taken the industry from kilobytes to megabytes to gigabytes.”
With the 5G network complete, now is the ideal time to discover the power of the Gogo AVANCE platform: which will deliver 5G power, speed, and reliability now, but also prepare your aircraft for the next revolution in global connectivity for business aviation – low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite broadband.
At Gogo, we dream big and design bold solutions. Regardless of aircraft size, number of users onboard, or where you fly around the world, Gogo will seamlessly connect you to what matters most from Denver to Florida, Paris to Dubai and everywhere in between.
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