Could Gogo lure Southwest Airlines to the other side?

Southwest Wi-Fi hotspot.JPG

Ever since Southwest Airlines announced its merger with AirTran Airways, executives at Southwest and executives at Gogo have gotten to know each other better.

AirTran’s entire fleet is fitted with Gogo’s air-to-ground airborne Internet solution, while Southwest is in the process of equipping its aircraft with Row 44′s Ku-band connectivity offering so naturally Southwest is now talking to Gogo.

Could Southwest be lured to the other side, convincedto join its merger partner in offering a consistent Gogo service instead of Row 44? If we knew the terms of Southwest’s contract with Row 44, we’d be better placed to answer that question….obviously.

But one of the oft-stated reasons why Southwest opted for Row 44 in the first place is that the California-based company let the low-cost carrier put its stamp on the in-flight connectivity service. Gogo, on the other hand, pushed its brand out in front (and with good reason – it was financing a lot of installs for its airline partners).

Now Gogo has altered its strategy.
In announcing its multi-media platform – a fancy term for a fancy walled garden – Gogo executive vicepresident and chief marketing officer Ash ElDifrawi said:

“We heard loud and clear from our airline partners that they wantthis site and this platform to be ownable and brandable for them sothey can create a differentiated experience that’s aligned with theirbrand. So a clear deliverable was to give them what I call a canvassthat they can have a differentiated experience that aligns with theirbrand, their messaging their customer experience.”

But surely the move is about Gogo’s fiscal and operational happiness as well, especially since the company is eyeing an eventual IPO. Certainly, in moving to a multi-media platform, the company stands to gain revenue share from movies and shopping, and become less reliant on the fragile pay-for-service Wi-Fi model, which it currently augments with various promos and advertising and, oh yes, sweet monthly deals covering Gogo service on thousands of business jets.

Additionally, by offering more non web-based functionality, Gogo is giving its bandwidth a breather. Perhaps it reasons (like many before it, including Inmarsat, interestingly) that if you give passengers a managed experience – a movie, a bit of social media, some shopping and planning options – many won’t need unfettered access to the Internet.

Anyhoooooo, back to Southwest. I’ve got to believe that Gogo is in the process of designing a snazzy looking walled garden for Southwest as I write this blog, one that slaps Southwest’s logo all over the shop.

But what else might Gogo have up its sleeve? Let’s opine here for a second. Gogo is testing an AeroSat Ku-band antenna at its Illinois headquarters. Yours truly assumes that the Ku antenna is aimed at supporting overseas connectivity for one or more of Gogo’s international airline partners, like American and Delta. But could Gogo be doing an intensive study with the aim of finally luring Ku (big bandwidth) lover Southwest? Stranger things have happened. (Incidentally, Row 44 launched its service with an AeroSat antenna, before moving to the Tecom/Qest antenna it now uses.)

OKAY, God help us that’s enough stream of consciousness for one night!

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