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EU Says Yes to Mobile Phone Use on Airplanes, Announces Regulation Plans

By Mae Kowalke April 07, 2008
Travelers crisscrossing the air over Europe will soon have a new way to occupy their time while en route: using their cell phones during flights. The European Union (EU) on Monday announced plans to begin licensing in-flight use of wireless communications devices and services.
 
Service providers interested in launching offerings for fliers should be able to get EU approval before 2008 is out, AP reported Monday. Pricing is apparently the prime concern of the EU at this point, with the European Commission emphasizing that it wants to ensure in-flight cell phone service users won’t be unpleasantly surprised when they get their first bill.
 
“We expect operators to be transparent and innovative in their price offerings,” said EU telecom commissioner Viviane Reding, in a Monday statement. “If consumers receive shock phone bills, the service will not take-off.”
 
Reding predicted that, if pricing is managed effectively, this new type of mobile phone service should prove appealing to business travelers especially, who stand to benefit significantly from being able to “communicate wherever they are, wherever they go.”
 
The Commission’s regulation of the fledgling in-flight mobile service market won’t merely concern itself with pricing, of course. The agency also said it will develop certification procedures to ensure that in-flight mobile phone use doesn’t interfere with technology used in the airplane cabins nor conflict with the need for on-board security.
 
Reding further advised airlines and service provides to create necessary conditions on board aircraft in order to ensure “that those who want to use in-flight communication services do not disturb other passengers.”
 
That last point could be a bit of a challenge: how do you deal with a flight full of people all talking on their cell phones simultaneously? Perhaps users will be encouraged to engage in other, less noisy forms of mobile communications like texting. Or maybe the pricing will prove prohibitive to casual cell phone users and instead will be embraced only by true road (or in this case air) warriors.
 
Trials of in-flight mobile phone service are already underway by some European airlines, including Air France, AP noted. Other airlines — among them TAP in Portugal, Ryanir and British Midway — plan to launch services later this year. Most of these services are being provided by OnAir, a division of Airbus.
 
Germany’s Lufthansa on Monday said it won’t be offering in-flight phone service, stating that passengers don’t want to be disturbed by listening to all those calls around them, AP reported. The airline is, however, considering a re-launch of its on-board Internet access service (which previously was available from 2004-2006).
 
Technically, the in-flight services will work by connecting passengers’ phones to an onboard cell network, which in turn will connect to the ground via satellite. The point of this is to keep transmission powers “low enough for mobile phones to be used without affecting the safety of aircraft equipment or the normal operation of terrestrial mobile networks,” the European Union said in a Monday press announcement.
 
Monday’s announcement came on the heels of a March 26 decision by OFCOM, U.K.’s telecommunications regulator, to allow mobile communications on board aircraft.
 
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Mae Kowalke is senior editor for IoTevolutionworld, covering VoIP, CRM, call center and wireless technologies. To read more of Mae’s articles, please visit her columnist page. She also blogs for IoTevolutionworld here.

IoTevolutionworld Senior Editor

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