Jumat, 18 April 2008

The European Commission has introduced technical and licensing regulations to let airline passengers use their mobile handsets and smartphones during flights. "Pan-European telecom services, such as in-flight mobile telephony, needed a regulatory one-stop shop to operate throughout Europe, and this is why the commission has acted," said European Union Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding.


The approved in-flight technology prevents mobile handsets from connecting directly to networks on the ground. Instead, passengers must link to an onboard cellular network that uses an Inmarsat satellite to relay signals back to Earth.

According to OnAir -- a joint venture of aircraft-maker Airbus and the aeronautical telecom organization SITA -- rerouting cellular signals via satellite ensures that transmission power levels will remain low and prevent mobile phones from interfering with onboard navigation and communications systems.

Recent participants in OnAirs ongoing trials in cooperation with Air France have been able to use standard GSM mobile phones and other compatible devices to access the full range of mobile communications services just as they do on the ground.

"During the first three months of the trial, passenger feedback has been positive regarding the features, quality of transmission and user-friendliness of the service," said Air France Vice President Patrick Roux.

Each OnAir trial run, which does not become active until the aircraft reaches an altitude of three kilometers (1.86 miles), allows up to six simultaneous calls as well as unlimited SMS and e-mail, Air France said.


Still, the commercial success of new in-flight mobile services will depend on a number of other factors that are still up in the air. For example, passengers using the new service can expect to be billed extra charges under their existing GSM international roaming agreements.

"We expect operators to be transparent and innovative in their price offerings," explained Reding, who thinks the services will ultimately fail if users end up receiving "shock phone bills."

The EC is also requesting that the airlines and operators take steps to ensure that passengers in need of peace and quiet are not disturbed. OnAir has said its system will give the cabin crew complete control of the system, "allowing them, for example, to switch to SMS-only mode when it is night in the cabin."

Meantime, the Association of European Airlines is worried that the media buzz around the new technology could impact flight safety by misleading passengers "into believing that they can use their mobile phone on board any flight as from tomorrow," said AEA Secretary General Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus.

"Unless passengers are told, specifically, that they can use their mobile phone onboard a specific flight, they should follow the airlines safety instructions and switch it off from takeoff to engine switch-off, lest it should interfere with navigation systems," Schulte-Strathaus said.

On the other hand, should the EC succeed in fostering the new in-flight technology, it will give GSM yet another way to maintain its global dominance over CDMA. This was certainly the commissions aim last month when it tapped DVB-H as the European Unions mobile-TV technology of choice.


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