Saturday 29 March 2008

Do we need mobile on Planes

One of the last refuges from annoying ringtones and anodyne phone conversations is likely to disappear after communications watchdog Ofcom cleared the use of mobile phones on aircraft yesterday, with some airlines ready to launch services in time for the summer holidays.

The prospect of passengers shouting "I'm on the plane" at 11,000 metres (37,000 ft) may fill many with dread, but for the airlines it could be a real moneyspinner to charge passengers a hefty premium to make and receive calls in the air.

Passengers will still be banned from using their mobile or Blackberry email device at take-off and landing. Once at 3,000 metres the cabin crew will switch on equipment to pick up the signal from a mobile and relays it to the ground via satellite.

Ofcom confirmed plans to enable airlines to offer mobile communication services on UK-registered aircraft, if they wish to do so. This will be subject to approval by the relevant UK and European aviation authorities - the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK.

The decision has been developed jointly with other EU countries and will enable use in European airspace. It follows an Ofcom consultation on the proposals published in October 2007.

The safety of passengers is paramount and mobile systems on aircraft will only be installed when they have secured approval by EASA and the CAA in the UK. If such approval has been secured it will be a matter for individual airlines to judge whether there is consumer demand for these services.

The proposed system utilises an on-board base station in the plane which communicates with passengers' own handsets. The base station - called a pico cell - is low power and creates a network area big enough to encompass the cabin of the plane.

The base station routes phone traffic to a satellite, which is in turn connected to mobile networks on the ground.

A network control unit on the plane is used to ensure that mobiles in the plane do not connect to any base stations on the ground. It blocks the signal from the ground so that phones cannot connect and remain in an idle state.

Calls will be billed through passengers' mobile networks. "

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