Gogo vs. Panasonic on Planes

When I recently flew from Frankfurt to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, I flew on two different planes with two different Internet providers. On the outbound leg, I was on a Boeing 777 that was equipped with a system operated by Gogo wireless, well known for providing  in-flight Internet access for many airlines in the US. On the return trip I was on an Airbus A350 and Internet access there was provided with a Panasonic system. The experiences could not have been more different.

For the 11 hour trip, the Gogo system worked pretty well. Datarates of several Mbit/s in the downlink direction and a sustained uplink data rate of 2 Mbit/s with round trip times of around 1000 ms didn’t make browsing and interactive shells very responsive but page load times were ok. The only issue I had with Gogo is that they effectively block OpenVPN use. Whenever I had a tunnel open I frequently experienced connectivity loss for 20-30 seconds. Without a tunnel this didn’t happen at all. So I used an ssh tunnel over non-standard ports which worked well. This doesn’t seem to be an ephemeral thing, however, I noticed this before on US flights as well.

On the 12 hour return trip, the story was very different with the Panasonic system. The system worked well for the first hour or two, also with a round trip time of 1000 ms to a server in Europe and the data rate was throttled at all times to a maximum of 1 Mbit/s. After a while, however, connectivity became very erratic with TCP connections failing to establish properly. It must have been something on their gateway because things kept working fine over OpenVPN and TCP connections established through the tunnel. Also, data throughput slowed down to a couple of hundred kilobits per second. In the uplink direction I never had more than a few kilobytes a second, so uploading files was almost impossible. Overall, a not very pleasing experience.

Interestingly enough, Cathay Pacific says on their website that ‘Wi-Fi is enabled on all of our Airbus A350 aircraft, and we are progressively rolling out Wi-Fi on our Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 aircraft‘. So perhaps they were as unhappy as I was with their Panasonic system and decided to go for something else on the rest of their fleet. Pure speculation on my part however.