Fixing Gogo’s In-Flight WiFi – and PR – Problem

We’ve all been there.

Back in your college days there was probably a dorm room down the hall that was filled with a pod of over-clocked peers sucking all of the free university-supplied WiFi oxygen out of the air to support their addiction. As a result, you might have been lucky just to connect to your local WiFi access point at all. Even shared wired-network bandwidth was routinely confiscated by their aggressive applications. Personal entreaties to them to let others have their fair share of the bandwidth probably fell on deaf ears. Perhaps, out of frustration, you might have set off a smoke bomb outside their room to up the ante, only to have the one called “Hud” emerge and stamp it out with his bare feet. (Not that I would have any personal knowledge of that sort of behavior.)

Virgin America A320 cabinFast forward to today. Whether you’re checking in to a decent hotel on a business trip or into Seat 22A for a 5-hour flight on a WiFi “equipped” Virgin America A320, the chances are good that your network connectivity “experience” will be compromised by some combination of too many users and/or rogue applications capable of grabbing over half of the total available bandwidth.

Now onto the specific plight of Gogo Inflight.

Concerned, rightfully, about finding a way to limit video streaming on board Gogo WiFi-enabled planes — so that all paying users could make use of their Internet service — Gogo recently went to the extraordinary measure of actually issuing fake SSL certificates to passengers in an effort to limit streaming to secure video streaming sites. This, not surprisingly, ignited a firestorm of negative PR for them about the security and privacy holes they were opening up as a result of them initiating a “man-in-the-middle” attack on their own customers. And this firestorm continues today.

The truth is that had GoGo been aware of the capabilities of Saisei’s new Network Performance Enforcement solution when they implemented their “fake SSL certificate” gambit, they could have completely avoided their very public PR fiasco as well as “fixed” the problem of bandwidth contention on board their flights in classic “win-win” fashion. Not only would NPE have guaranteed that all the user sessions on board would have gotten through without buffering and timing out, it could even have allowed the targeted video streaming sessions to continue to operate as well. That’s what NPE does at the end of the day. It makes sure that all data flows successfully transit links under congestion.

As Gogo said about the furor, “Whatever technique we use to shape bandwidth, it impacts only some secure video streaming sites.” What Gogo should have said is that whatever “traditional” bandwidth shaping technique they used was going to have a negative impact. They were right in that traditional QoS approaches and bandwidth caps would have done nothing to save their subscribers from dying sessions and a wholly frustrating experience. Hence the “Hail Mary” epiphany to try the fake SSL certificates. But with NPE, nothing would have been impacted and all signs of link congestion would have been completely hidden from their customers.

NPE’s patented host-equalization capability, which gives all network users exactly the same amount of bandwidth, combined with its ability to both double access link utilization and guarantee that all flows will get through without ever timing out, makes Saisei’s technology an instant fix for any fair-use service, whether it’s for on-board Internet access, hotel WiFi, or making sure that the pack of gamers down the university dorm hall get no more of the network than the study group working on their project over Skype.