Telcos are constantly working on creating better, more affordable ways to ensure stable connectivity in remote areas and high altitudes.
Starlink and Gogo have found themselves tangled in this quest. Even though they both began at opposite ends of the spectrum, their growing interests have brought them closer over time, and soon you might have to choose one over the other.
Here is a quick outline of how the two companies and their products compare.
Starlink vs. Gogo: Side-by-Side Comparison
|Ownership||Owned by SpaceX||Owned by Intelsat|
|Area of Specialization||Broadband internet in remote and rural locations||High-altitude in-flight internet access for commercial aircraft|
|Competing Products||Starlink Aviation||Gogo In-flight internet services|
|Competitor Status||New (to be launched)||Established|
|Main Technology||Low-Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites||Above the ground (ATG), LEO and 2Ku satellite system (To be launched)|
|Availability||Globally||Continental US, parts of Canada, and Alaska|
|Who Bears the Cost of Service?||Airline or aircraft owner||Traveler|
Starlink vs. Gogo: Key Differences
The key differences between Starlink and Gogo are explorable in six facets: ownership, focus services, availability, cost burden, internet speeds, and industry news on their future.
Starlink is a branch of Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Musk launched it in 2019 to design and launch satellites that provide internet connectivity. By the start of the 4th quarter of 2022, it had installed over 3,000 LEO satellites.
On the other hand, Gogo had been in the industry for over a decade before Starlink but only received a worthy facelift when Intelsat bought its commercial aviation business unit in 2020. Intelsat is one of the leading Satellite services providers in the world and owns most of the geostationary and LEO satellites.
The two companies began solving the issue of “internet everywhere” from opposite ends — Starlink aimed to provide high-speed broadband internet access to remote and rural areas globally.
Gogo, on the other hand, has established itself as the provider of in-flight broadband Wi-Fi to airlines and aircraft. It makes it possible for passengers to browse the internet, read, and respond to texts.
Like Starlink, it designs and manufactures its onboard systems. However, while the Starlink system is self-installed, it takes Gogo specialists to install and maintain its systems.
With the growth of technology, Starlink and Gogo are slowly becoming rivals. Starlink is venturing into aviation, promising to be the airlines’ go-to satellite-based internet provider. Since its acquisition by Intelsat, Gogo has also been offering satellite-based in-flight internet services to airlines that flew beyond the reach of its above-the-ground (ATG) systems.
So far, the main difference between the two providers is that Starlink is focused on business jets and smaller aircraft, while Gogo specializes in large commercial airlines. Nonetheless, even this difference will cease if Gogo sees through its rumored partnership with OneWeb. Through the partnership, Gogo’s high-speed internet will be available to ultra-long-range aircraft, which often fly out of reach of the ATG towers.
It is evident that, while Starlink depends mainly on LEO satellites, Gogo depends on both ATG and LEO satellite systems. Before the launch of the LEO satellite systems into its infrastructure, Gogo used geostationary satellites to offer low-data rate services, such as email access. Therefore, it will take a more robust investment for Starlink to unseat Gogo and its alternatives.
According to Musk, Starlink satellites are available in all the continents, including Antarctica. However, its aviation service will be available only to select airlines that can meet its installation fees. Once fitted, the passengers in the plane can access the internet while flying in any part of the world. According to Musk, SpaceX plans to improve the quality and reliability of the service by increasing the number of LEO satellites to 12,000.
Gogo enjoys a broader customer base, thanks to its long history in the industry. According to Bloomberg, about 2,000 aircraft were receiving in-flight services through Intelsat’s satellites. Gogo’s statistics show that nearly 6,500 aircraft were using its ATG systems and 4,500 others connected to its narrow and satellite connectivity by March 2022.
As expected, Gogo is more readily available than Starlink, as most airlines have already taken it up. However, access to its ATG systems is limited to the continental U.S. and parts of Alaska and Canada. Alaska Airlines, Air Canada, and United Airlines are some of the 20 airlines that use Gogo’s in-flight Wi-Fi services.
While Gogo allows travelers to purchase their data plans, Starlink only has airplane subscriptions. Therefore, for Gogo, the traveler bears the cost of use while the airline pays for the hardware. For Starlink, the airline or aircraft owner takes both the cost of installation and the use of the service.
That is, provided you will be traveling using an airline with a Gogo system installed, you can buy hourly or day internet plans or passes before the flight. You can also purchase it during the flight, though it will cost you more. If you travel often, there are subscription plans that you can use to save some cash. There are also global plans for international travel.
The $7 per hour for Gogo internet service sounds high until you compare it with Starlink’s charges. The Starlink Aviation package comes with a one-time hardware purchase that costs $150,000 plus a monthly fee between $12,500 and $ 25,000 per plane. SpaceX projects that the first flight with such equipment will be in 2023.
Unlike Gogo, Starlink does not offer internet contracts, allowing you to cancel your subscription anytime without incurring contract termination charges. Also, if you cancel your service within a month after purchase and return the equipment in good shape, you will get a refund for the equipment.
Starlink promises to provide planes with up to 350 Mbps internet speed. While it sounds okay, it could be better, as that averages to less than 2 Mbps per passenger in a 100-seater airplane, after cutting out the bandwidth for communications. Other competing providers, such as Viasat, already offer 2.2 Mbps.
Additionally, according to a survey by internet speed monitoring firm, Ookla, the growing Starlink customer base led to a drop in internet speeds globally to about 62 Mbps. It still needs to be seen how Starlink will manage the different performance needs of its systems when it launches its aviation product.
Gogo’s speed has not been as great as wished, but it has significantly improved over the years. Initially, its ATG systems allowed only text and voice communications. Further improvements led to the inclusion of email access. Moving to LEO satellite systems improved internet speeds significantly, but not all airlines have shifted.
For Starlink, the future appears clear: launch the first aircraft with its satellite-based in-flight Wi-Fi in 2023 and work around ways to improve it.
For Gogo, customers eagerly wait for the launch of the 2Ku satellite system. It will improve the bandwidth of Gogo Wi-Fi by 20 times and provide stable internet connectivity, even when flying over dead zones.
Starlink vs. Gogo: 5 Must-Know Facts
- Starlink aims to sell internet connectivity to nearly anyone on the planet.
- Starlink is intended to be the main revenue source to fund SpaceX’s project of sending inhabitants to Mars and providing internet connectivity to the Martians.
- Satellite-powered connectivity is often adversely affected by inclement weather conditions, especially snow build-up, heavy rains, and strong winds.
- LEO satellites have been accused of possibly affecting nocturnal wildlife and stargazing. This led Intelsat and Starlink to launch satellites with visors.
- LEO satellites circle the orbit at about 300 miles above the ground, offering faster internet speeds and lower latency.
- The first plane with Gogo in-flight internet took off in June 2008. Elon Musk launched Starlink 11 years later.
Starlink vs. Gogo: Which is Better?
Here we look at three aspects: coverage, selling point, and future predictions.
If you want to use the internet from your holiday residence in the mountains or other remote parts of the world, Starlink is a reliable choice. In the in-flight internet sector, however, Gogo is a better option until Starlink proves itself, for which we will have to wait until 2023.
If you want to control how much bandwidth you can use, then Gogo is a good option. Since it allows you to buy your data plans, you can be confident the airline will not be charging internet as part of its ticket fare.
Starlink’s $15,000 to $25,000 monthly fee is only sensible for business aircraft. Commercial airlines might have to transfer the cost to customers, which will significantly increase the cost of travel. However, it’s worth it if you get to stream your favorite content and have video conferences without hitches while on a flight.
Gogo is currently a better alternative for U.S. travelers as it is established with 20 airlines already using it. However, once launched, Starlink will likely be more available than Gogo, given the aggressive nature of SpaceX in taking over markets.
But, at the same time, implementing a 5G infrastructure will put Gogo on the same level as other service providers that use satellite-based systems, which may make it harder for Starlink to take over commercial airlines.
While they began on the opposite extremes, Gogo and Starlink have grown into becoming the top rivals in the in-flight Wi-Fi provision sector. You need to watch this space for updates on how the rivalry spans out once Starlink launches its product in 2023 and Gogo goes 5G. Until then, Gogo still runs the show with other competitors.