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In-flight internet provider Gogo plans to deploy an air-to-ground 5G network for aviation, the company said today, initially focused on delivering high-speed data services to smaller aircraft. As a first-of-kind offering, Gogo’s 5G network is planned for commercial accessibility in 2021, servicing routes in the contiguous United States and Canada.

According to Gogo, the new 5G network will initially combine advanced beamforming technology with a proprietary modem and unlicensed 2.4GHz spectrum — a wavelength with a respectable combination of speed and distance characteristics. An existing 250-tower infrastructure will be upgraded to support 5G data speeds and latency; it will be capable of supporting additional spectrum types and bands in the future, and have the ability to fall back to 3G and 4G service as necessary.

For travelers, the 5G data is likely to be accessible via Wi-Fi connections, which is to say that while the aircraft will be sending and receiving cellular signals, passengers will still log into Gogo’s service using Wi-Fi. The key difference, Gogo suggests, will be that the 5G service will deliver “lower cost of operation and lower latency” compared with satellite technologies; this could keep Gogo 5G service pricing low, while improving currently sluggish in-flight response times.

“We expect to launch Gogo 5G at the same time as the terrestrial telecommunications companies are deploying the same generation of technology on the ground — a first in the in-flight connectivity industry,” said Gogo CEO Oakleigh Thorne. The air-to-ground 5G network will service business aircraft, commercial regional jets, and smaller mainline jets at first, presumably expanding to larger flights as network resources increase.

Gogo developed a reputation for providing middling wireless data service to customers in the air, leveraging satellites to deliver shared, 3G-caliber connection speeds to planes filled with increasingly data-hungry customers. After a public drubbing by customer American Airlines, it upgraded its hardware and increased AI initiatives to monitor and improve its performance. Gogo says that it’s committed to offering existing airline customers an easy upgrade path to the new service, which means that the 5G service might make its way into American, Delta, and United flights.

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