Kamis, 17 April 2008

The friendly skies just got a little noisier. Emirates Airline, a Dubai-based carrier, now allows mobile phone calls during its flights -- and more airlines are moving in the same direction.

The airline is using equipment from AeroMobile that allows voice calls, SMS text messaging, and other applications using a GSM phone, according to David Coiley, vice president of external relations at AeroMobile.

"We prioritized GSM phones because we uniquely can operate over the existing Inmarsat satellite communication system installed on over 2,000 wide-body airliners around the world," he said. "Those airliners will typically fly on long-haul intercontinental routes, and GSM tech is the appropriate technology for the devices that passengers bring with them on that type of aircraft."


CDMA phones, common in North America, may in the future be able to take advantage of in-flight mobile services if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lifts its ban on in-flight calls. Piggybacking on the Inmarsat satellites helps circumvent concerns that the use of wireless devices in-flight may cause "interference to wireless networks on the ground," which, according to an FCC consumer advisory, is the reason that cell-phone use is prohibited on planes.

Coiley said that data from the Emirates flights may help debunk some of the etiquette concerns that were raised when the FCC considered dropping its ban, adding that he thought the concerns were "somewhat overstated, without some of the commentators knowing all of the details with regard to how these services are implemented and what can be done to encourage appropriate behavior." Coiley added, "I think people are a little more sensible than some would give them credit for, and the appropriate behavior will emerge anyway."

Coiley said that there will always be a finite amount of bandwidth available on an aircraft, "so the one thing that will not happen is everyone yakking on the plane all at once, which is the nightmare scenario that was projected and is simply not accurate." In the case of Emirates, the airline uses video and printed material to ask passengers to use their phones silent mode and to be courteous to other passengers.


Calls made in the air will simply be billed directly to the passengers calling plan, Coiley said, the same as any other international roaming call (so of course that service needs to be enabled). In-flight calls will be at the premium end of the service spectrum -- around $4 per minute -- but Coiley noted that costs for the credit card phones already on many airliners are typically higher than that.

AeroMobile is also working with Qantas on a system that will be voice capable; however, Coiley noted that the airline is currently evaluating the service only for text and GPRS data, which will allow passengers to operate BlackBerry e-mail and other data applications. The Qantas service, available for domestic flights, will be rolled out by the end of this year, according to the airlines Web site.

Coiley said that Turkish Airlines is also running an evaluation project with AeroMobile. Air France and Royal Jordanian are conducting trials with OnAir, a company that offers similar technology to AeroMobile.


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