At a Glance

What they wanted to do:

  • Lay out a nationwide air to ground broadband network
  • Overlay data to improve accuracy
  • Continuously monitor aircraft and network performance in real-time

What they did:

  • Implemented Google Earth Pro to design, help build, and continuously monitor air-to-ground network

What they accomplished:

  • Improved network design time threefold
  • Enhanced accuracy and engineering productivity
  • Brought nationwide service to market within two years
  • Met customer SLAs

"I found Google Earth Pro to be a superior GIS visualization tool because it is very easy to aggregate and overlay different layers of data."

—Yong Liu, Senior RF Engineer, Aircell"

About Google Earth Pro

Google Earth Pro extends the power of Google Earth with additional capabilities designed specifically for business users.Reduce company software costs and save employee time with features designed to share geographic information on top the world’s most comprehensive mapping database including high-resolution and street-level imagery. Google Earth Pro also lets you overlay complex GIS data,print high resolution scenes for reports,and measure area and radius for site analysis using the version of Google Earth designed specifically for commercial purposes

For more information, visit www.earth.google.com/pro

"Google Earth Pro has been a critical tool at Aircell Engineering and Operations since the beginning of this project."

"—Yong Liu, Senior RF Engineer, Aircell

Gogo builds inflight broadband network in just two years and monitors network in real-time using Google Earth Pro

Business

With the launch of Gogo® Inflight Internet service, airplanes became flying WiFi hotspots, delivering broadband speed and performance to passengers flying across the United States. Formerly known as Aircell, Gogo offers Gogo Inflight Internet, a service fully authorized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to provide inflight connectivity across a dedicated spectrum that was built in only 2 years using Google Earth Pro tools. The service is available on all domestic AirTran Airways and Virgin America flights and on select Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways flights as well as on thousands of business aircraft bringing the total to more than 6,000 aircraft.

Challenge

After garnering an exclusive FCC frequency license allowing Aircell to provide Wi-Fi access to air travelers flying over the U.S.,the company’s engineering team had a monumental task at hand — building out a nationwide broadband RF network from start to finish. According to Yong Liu, Senior RF Engineer for Aircell, designing the network was a data-intensive task. "We needed geographical and terrain information, as well as data about preexisting towers and antenna structures so that we could know where to place RF base stations to avoid obstructions,” he says. "We also had to measure the distance between the base stations to ensure adequate coverage."

In the past, when Yong was involved with building a nationwide PCS (Personal Communications Services) network, he and the engineering team used physical topographical maps from the U.S. Geological Survey, manually cutting and pasting them together to get a rough picture of the terrain and predict potential obstructions.

The process was slow, and not as accurate as they would have liked. In designing the Gogo Network, Yong and the team needed more precise tools,a way to overlay different types of data to visualize all the variables involved, as well as the ability to take accurate measurements.

Adding to the challenge, once the network was built, the engineering team had to find a way to track its performance in real-time. This would entail monitoring the location of each aircraft, the operation of its networking equipment, and the performance of each base station. "We uphold strict service-level agreements with clients, and that means we have to check on the health of both the cell sites on the ground and the equipment on the plane continuously in real-time," says Yong.

Solution

During the network design stage, Yong used Google Earth Pro along with RF prediction tools to plan where to build base stations. "I found Google Earth Pro to be a superior GIS visualization tool because it is very easy to aggregate and overlay different layers of data," he says. For example, Yong overlaid a traffic density map, FAA STAR points showing standard arrival and departure routes, and a hex grid. Using the hex grid as a guide, he was able to map all known airport tower and cell site locations, and plan out where to build base stations. "The terrain information in Google Earth Pro is a huge help. I found it more detailed and accurate than the terrain database in my RF prediction tools," he adds. "Using Google Earth Pro, we were also able to import GIS data from .csv files. This made it easy to get the geographical information we needed into our Google Earth models. We also used the Elevation Profile feature to check for terrain obstructions and the Polygon Tool to measure the distance between cell site locations with extreme accuracy."

Next, the team output maps that were used to complete the tower collocation applications and apply for building permits – the detailed information helped everyone at Aircell not only design, but also more easily construct a nationwide RF infrastructure. Once they started commercial service, the Aircell Network Operations Center (NOC) used Google Earth Pro to obtain

a real-time view of Gogo-equipped aircraft. They were able to tie together the information from the Company’s real-time alarm database and aircraft positioning information to display aircraft status in Google Earth Pro. A dedicated display in the NOC shows this information live, around-the-clock. In addition to the real-time status display, Gogo generates statistics and aircraft service measurements every day. Network performance engineers use Google Earth Pro to visualize the metrics and gauge potential performance issues in the network.

Results

According to Yong, Google Earth Pro gave the engineering team a more accurate, efficient workflow that helped Aircell get its new service to market quickly within just two years. "We laid out about one hundred sites in three to six months using Google Earth Pro," says Yong. "In the past, it would have taken the same amount of time to lay out 30-40 sites. I’d say Google Earth Pro improves efficiency by a factor of three, while also boosting accuracy."

Google Earth Pro has also had a positive impact on customer service,because Aircell can proactively, visually monitor each aircraft as well as each base station in real-time. "Our Network Operations team doesn’t have to rely on just text alarms and statuses; instead, they can see the precise situation of each plane and correlate and troubleshoot any issues with cell sites,"says Yong. "These are powerful tools in helping us meet our servicelevel agreements with clients."

As a next step, Aircell is planning to use the RF planning tools in Google Earth Pro to visualize "hot spots"in the Gogo network. "Google Earth Pro has been a critical tool at Aircell Engineering and Operations since the beginning of this project," says Yong