Gogo Air: Winning through partnerships and contracts

Gogo Air, a provider of wireless in-flight internet, partners with several companies to serve 80% of the country’s airline market

Gogo Air is a provider of inflight communications including internet, text messaging, and other related services. Gogo currently partners with 11 major commercial airlines and the satellite provider Inmarsat to serve 80% of the airline market. Gogo has a preference for long-term contracts, typically 10 years, tying airlines into their service for a significant duration. The long-term contracts have been a major driver of increased market share over the past several years.

Gogo is excellent at applying the most relevant and economical technology to each flight they serve. International flights are best served by Inmarsat’s satellite technology and a majority of domestic flights are best served by Gogo’s wireless offerings.

Two months ago I probably would have written that Gogo is a digital loser as one of the most shorted stocks on the market and provider of weak service and reliant upon long-term contracts. But, with the recent FAA approval to install new hardware that will allow for 20x the bandwith offered previously, Gogo will not only continue to control a majority of the market, but will have a strong chance of contract renewal and positive customer reviews. Recent surveys have shown that frequent fliers have felt Gogo is both too expensive and too slow. With the 2KU hardware (offering the 20x current bandwith), major airlines are increasing the number of aircrafts that carry Gogo and partner hardware, which is a positive sign for revenue growth for Gogo.

Many investors cite massive capital expenditures on new equipment as unsustainable and a negative sign for Gogo, especially when examining the free cash flow generated by the business over the last 6 years. The free cash flow problem combined with the end of long-term contracts over the next few years drove many investors to short Gogo stock. However, with recent FAA approval of 2KU on flights, not only will revenue increase through new customers and expanded offerings to existing customers, but the likelihood of contract renewal for another 10 years increases significantly.

One of the major ways Gogo’s competition aims to compete is on price. Competing on service tends to be a better method than price in an industry with ever higher expectations for quality. It’s an industry that requires significant capital expenditures for the deployment of new/faster technology and sacrificing margin or cutting expenses on R&D aren’t realistic options.

Overall, Gogo has maintained technology offerings ahead of competitors and in line with expectations of most customers. Long-term contracts have prevented significant volatility expected in businesses with such high capital expenditures as new technologies are released. Critically, they aren’t tied to a single technological offering and understand the rise of satellite internet for airlines, evident in the partnership with Inmarsat. Gogo is a digital winner because of the relentless pursuit of market share, protected through long-term contracts and advanced technology.

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3 thoughts on “Gogo Air: Winning through partnerships and contracts

  1. The point about price competition is interesting, especially since flyers rarely choose which in-flight internet provider they use. I would add that dynamic pricing is another way that Gogo is using technology to improve its business. By predicting demand based on corporate travel trends and adjusting prices accordingly, Gogo has been able to influence in-flight purchases upward or downward to fit its bandwidth constraints. NYT did an interesting piece on this topic last month: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/27/technology/personaltech/in-flight-wi-fi-prices-jump-as-demand-surges.html

  2. Well said – as a first mover, Gogo is certainly well-positioned as a likely winner in this space…. I agree the FAA announcement and next generation solutions (2Ku) provides some optimism around their long-term viability.

    I think it’s interesting to see how Gogo weathered the entry (and ultimate “exit”) of AT&T. I recall AT&T making headlines last year when they announced plans to begin offering 4G LTE Wifi…only later to reverse course citing capex concerns. To me this announcement only speaks to the formidable position Gogo has obtained…there seem to be considerable barriers to entry (both in terms of capex and technology). AT&T’s inability to enter the market may only help Gogo by scaring off potential entrants.

  3. I agree that the 10-year contracts are a strong move for Gogo, and I think speak to the airlines’ view that new competitors wouldn’t be able to readily crop up in the near-term. The question for me will be whether Gogo will be able to continue improving and innovating to the point that consumers are kept happy, and what it will cost them to do so, and if not, will customers invest in their own in-flight solutions (which perhaps wouldn’t be covered by the contract). The disadvantage of being the first mover is that Gogo is the one whose brand will have to be directly associated with the poor infrastructure that exists today, which might be something they will be unable to overcome later down the road. Additionally, as they are the ones who largely have to lead the charge to improve said infrastructure, they may too deeply entrench themselves in current technology, which would likely see outside innovation, and therefore would be left behind. A major airline flight I took this past month opted to have their own in-flight service. My first thought was that that decision must have been a very intentional choice (given Gogo’s substantial presence) to own this all-important piece of flight satisfaction, especially for the all-important business traveler. I would wonder whether Gogo contracts prevent airlines from launching their own presence in the space, and how easy it would be for those airlines to do so as technology progresses.

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