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Gogo's 737-500, N321GG a.k.a. the "Jimmy Ray."

Gogo’s 737-500, N321GG a.k.a. the “Jimmy Ray”

Ok, I’ll admit that this flight review will be on an aircraft that 99.99% of the public won’t ever get the chance to fly, and I do feel badly about that… but it’s simply too cool for school to be on a private 737, more so because this particular 737 (a -500 model, reg. no. N321GG) currently has the fastest publicly-available inflight Wi-Fi Internet system in the world.

Gogo invited AirlineReporter and other media outlets to take flight on the “Jimmy Ray” to test out their new 2Ku system, which was debuted for the first time outside the company. While other tech-oriented companions were obsessed with reloading Speedtest and hammering the system with live streams, content streams, live feeds, and downloads, I was busy poking around the cabin features and amenities. Yea… I am an AvGeek.

Gogo's testbed, a Boeing 737-500 (reg. no. N321GG) dubbed the "Jimmy Ray."

Gogo’s testbed, a Boeing 737-500 (reg. no. N321GG) dubbed the “Jimmy Ray”

You might have heard of Gogo, that company that lets you check Facebook watch Youtube be productive while you’re 30,000 feet in the air. And you might have been one of those who sighed loudly when your cat video kept pausing and buffering.

From the power user traveling for work, to the new user who will update their status to, “I’m posting this from the plane!”, most can agree that data speeds inflight are nowhere near what we’re used to on the ground. We take connectivity on land for granted, but in the air the concept is still novel and exciting (before it disappoints us multiple times with the infinite spinning “Loading…” circle).

An #AvGeek testing Gogo's speed.

An #AvGeek testing Gogo’s speed

Gogo wants you to have really, really fast Internet, and they invited AirlineReporter to come check out their new headquarters in Chicago’s Loop, as well as to experience their test bed in action (or in #AvGeek-speak, fly on their private, tricked out Boeing 737-500). Can Internet access actually get better, and what does it mean for the regular passenger?

N321GG- Gogo's 737-500 testbed. Photo: Courtesy Gogo

N321GG – Gogo’s 737-500 testbed – Photo: Gogo

Like most business travelers, I have grown accustomed to looking for the familiar WiFi symbol while boarding a plane. Just a few years ago, in-flight connectivity was a luxury and something one could not depend on, whether through spotty deployment across fleets, or because the cutting-edge technology delivering said connectivity wasn’t terribly reliable.

Over the years, however, following increased adoption among carriers, this luxury has morphed into something closer to a necessity. Business travelers like consistency, yet as comedian Louis CK accurately pointed out in one of his more popular skits amongst AvGeeks, we are more entitled than we should be. While I have grown increasingly dependent on connectivity, the underlying technology has always been a bit of a black box to me. You’ll be happy to know the hardware is in-fact encased in black boxes.

Some of the hardware required to power Gogo's IFC and IFE systems. Photo: JL Johnson

Some of the hardware required to power Gogo’s IFC and IFE systems – Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with the Gogo team at the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) Expo in Portland to learn all about in-flight connectivity. For two days I mingled with PR folks, engineers, and even some of Gogo’s competitors in an attempt to get a solid understanding of IFC basics. Now that I have had a few days to digest the the technology and various initialisms, I’m excited to share what I learned.

Inside the gogo Network Operations Center - Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

Inside the Gogo Network Operations Center – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

As a frequent flier, the novelty of in-flight internet has (mostly) worn off for me.  After a full day of presentations, tours, and demonstrations at Gogo, I can promise you that I’ll never take it for granted again.  Gogo invited me as part of a group of journalists from both the travel and tech sectors to take part in a day-long “all access” event at their headquarters, near Chicago O’Hare airport.

gogo's "Social Media Command Center" - Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

Gogo’s “Social Media Command Center” – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

Gogo is the largest provider of in-flight connectivity, with over 2,000 commercial planes equipped and 6,000 business jets. Originally known as Aircell (and a lot of equipment I saw still had that name on it), the company was founded in 1991 to provide in-flight telephone access. In 2008, Gogo launched in-flight broadband on their first commercial flight, and our lives as fliers has never been the same.