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American Airlines has announced an agreement with ViaSat to supply satellite-powered Wi-Fi on 100 new 737 MAX aircraft beating out rival Gogo, which until now has been the primary internet supplier for American's domestic fleet.
American has been angling for this deal since it filed a lawsuit against Gogo in February of this year. The suit, dropped after Gogo committed to supplying American with faster connectivity through its improved 2Ku satellite service, cited a clause in American's contract with Gogo, allowing American to take its business elsewhere if there was an option that provided better performance.
So Why Did American Choose ViaSat?
The new 737 MAX fleet was not covered by Gogo's contract with American. Gogo's current ATG systems used on American's domestic aircraft supply a peak of approximately 10Mbps to the plane for shared use.
ViaSat claims its current generation Ka-band ViaSat-1 and ViaSat-2 networks can deliver up to 12Mbps to each seat, and when its next-gen ViaSat-3 comes online in 2019, they expect that bandwidth to more than double.
“Our satellite bandwidth enables an ‘at home' internet experience that can serve everyone on the plane – and empowers innovative business models for airlines and their passengers,” said Mark Dankberg, ViaSat chairman and CEO. “We are delighted and honored to have the opportunity to work with American Airlines and help fulfill their goal of delivering the best in-flight Wi-Fi experience throughout their fleet. We believe we are now approaching the end of an era where passengers have paid very high prices for very slow connections. Our agreement highlights a significant initial step for American to deliver an onboard Wi-Fi experience every passenger will want to use.”
How Will Multiple Internet Providers Impact Flyers?
If ViaSat were to be the only vendor, this would be a substantial move to a fantastic product. ViaSat has won multiple awards for its in-flight Wi-Fi service, and the video streaming capability on Virgin America during the Netflix promotion was stellar.
However, American still has agreements in place with Gogo for a significant portion of its fleet and has already installed Gogo's 2Ku satellite service on around 140 planes.
What American's customers are facing is having three separate providers across four different networks on American's fleet. Freelance airline journalist, Jason Rabinowitz, crunched the numbers and this is how American's fleet will be connected.
- 2Ku on 140 aircraft
- ATG/ATG-4 on 430 other aircraft
- ViaSat Ka on 737 MAX
- Panasonic Ku on 777
This diversity with Wi-Fi connectivity is where American may run into issues. For a lot of frequent flyers, having Gogo as the sole internet supplier has allowed them to allocate a single, affordable, monthly cost to internet access through the use of a monthly Gogo in-flight pass, or by pre-purchasing a day pass (which prices out better than buying onboard).
- How will customers know which aircraft is supplied by which provider?
- What happens when connecting flights have internet supplied by two different vendors?
These are both questions that American will have to answer, and undoubtedly are ones that are being discussed at headquarters.
With the first 737 MAX scheduled to go into service in September 2017, the switch to two domestic providers is still a long way off. What this announcement may create, though, is confusion for flyers.
More bandwidth is a big win, however, only time will tell how the disparity in Wi-Fi experience impacts customer satisfaction.
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