Gogo’s Plan to Bring In-Flight Entertainment to Flyers’ Own Devices

Skift Take

Sometimes, going off-line is a good move.

— Marisa Garcia

Gogo Vision, the mobile┬áconnectivity company’s wireless in-flight entertainment (IFE) product is cleared for take-off as a stand-alone service in the U.S.

Gogo has received a supplemental type certificate (STC) from the FAA to provide an IFE-only service to airlines who have opted-out on connectivity antennae. Alaska Airlines will be the launch customer.

The IFE-only Gogo Vision product “utilizes much the same equipment that our Wi-Fi service utilises,” Steve Nolan, Director of Communications at Gogo tells Skift. “The content is stored on a server on the plane and served to passengers through an in-cabin Wi-Fi system. You don’t need an app to use the service. You simply need to launch your browser and you will be directed to a library of movies and TV shows.”

Because of the particular nature of the FAA’s approvals processes, a product cleared to fly with one particular configuration cannot make a “major change” to its product without separate approval. Changing over from an antennae-dependent in-flight connectivity (IFC) product with content offerings, to a stand-alone content server IFE qualifies as “major change,” as the FAA defines it. Clearing this approvals hurdle, pits Gogo head-to-head with IFE suppliers (large and small) who already provide a stand-alone wireless IFE option to airlines around the world.

“We see this as an important enhancement to the Gogo Vision product as it allows us to provide the service without necessarily having connectivity on the aircraft,” said Ash ElDifrawi, Gogo’s chief commercial officer, when the company announced the FAA’s approval. “We definitely have seen demand for the standalone version of this product. Some of Alaska Airlines’ Gogo Vision equipped aircraft will be configured this way and the service will launch later this year.”

This development from Gogo, and the growing competition for the standalone wirelessly-streamed in-flight entertainment market share, reflects the benefit to airlines of installing bring-your-own-device entertainment. With this option, smaller carriers, regionals, low-cost carriers, leisure carriers and even larger airlines (for select aircraft not already equipped with IFE) can offer passengers an improved cabin product, without, by necessity, having to overhaul their cabins to embed IFE hardware on seats.

“The majority of passengers today are carrying some sort of Wi-Fi enabled device on the plane,” said ElDifrawi. “Gogo Vision leverages that trend and eliminates the need for airlines to maintain expensive seatback equipment.”

A Pew Research study on mobile technology trends shows that IFE-capable mobile devices are now a common accessory for American consumers. As of January 2014: 58% of American adults had a smartphone, and 42% of American adults owned a tablet computer. Of course, these IFE options can also be enjoyed on laptops.

Nolan tells Skift that Gogo has no specific targeted next-customers, beyond Alaska Airlines, to announce at this time, but that the company will make the product available internationally. “Since it doesn’t need connectivity, it’s easy to install on any aircraft anywhere it might fly,” Nolan said.

As to how Gogo manages the entertainment content available on its Gogo Vision product, Nolan tells us: “We have content agreements in place with most of the major Hollywood studios, but we also will work with specific airlines on their particular content needs.”

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