In-flight calling

Brits don't want in-flight calling. Er, too late, probably. Sorry.

A new survey reveals that the majority of Brits don't want regulations on in-flight calling relaxed... a shame since those regulations were relaxed more than two years ago.

Online store Mobile Phone Expert asked more than 1500 people if they "welcomed the change in legislation that allows passengers to use their mobile phones". Almost half reckoned that in-flight calling would disturb their journey, though 34 per cent agreed that "it was about time regulation was relaxed".

A strange sentiment when the regulations on in-flight calling were published by Ofcom in March 2008, with the service being demonstrated by Air France a month later. The inability to make calls while in the air is now a commercial issue, not a regulatory one.

To get a mobile working the aircraft must be fitted with a femtocell (a tiny base station), and a satellite uplink to carry the calls. The femtocell also has to be a particularly smart one to keep status updates to a minimum, as every time the handset registers with the network it costs the airline money. That's expensive, and while some airlines are slowly rolling the technology into their aircraft others are holding back until they see some demand.

Data services are easier to provide: no unchargeable registration to worry about with Wi-Fi. Lots of flights (particularly in the USA) provide Wi-Fi access from the plane - at a price of course.

But Mobile Phone Expert is concerned that 58 per cent of the over 35s don't want in-flight calling, and that "this small change to the rules could have a huge impact on an airline’s business". We're not convinced that Ofcom sees its extensive consultations and statements on the subject as a "small change", but we're not convinced that Mobile Phone Expert is all that expert either.

Source :


ARCHIVE : Europe Begins Testing In-Flight Use of Cellphones
Apr 18th 2008

Fran├žois Germain, a BP executive, was one of the first passengers to put Air France’s pilot program allowing cellphone calls in flight to the test. The results last week were not quite as he hoped.

From Seat 14C, Mr. Germain punched in the number on his cellphone to his assistant in Paris and waited a few moments for the signal to bounce from a satellite in space to a receiver on the ground 39,000 feet below. “I’m not hearing you very well,” the assistant yelled when he got through. “It sounds like I’m talking to a small robot.”

While airlines in the United States have shunned the use of cellphones in flight — mainly because their passengers have argued vociferously for keeping one last cellphone-free sanctuary — some European and Mideast carriers are preparing to offer the service as early as this summer. Last week, regulators in Brussels gave a green light to the airlines, setting up a common licensing arrangement.

Air France wants to be among the first, beginning an experiment to determine whether European travelers will appreciate the convenience or rebel against the possibility of being stuck next to a loquacious seatmate.

Emirates, the largest carrier in the Mideast, has already equipped an Airbus A340 fight from Dubai to Casablanca with mobile technology and intends to extend the service to its entire fleet over the next several months. Ryanair, a low-cost European carrier popular among a young and chatty clientele, is planning to offer in-flight calls, anticipating potentially lucrative profits from the service.

But a number of hurdles must be overcome before more airlines offer the service. The technology, which allows cellphone users to make and receive calls through an onboard base station linked to a satellite, delivers a still-patchy quality that keeps most in-flight calls short and tinny. And then there are the eye-popping roaming charges of up to 3 euros ($4.72) a minute.

On a recent Air France test flight between Paris and Vienna, mobile calls made using the technology that is dominant in Europe generally allowed passengers to connect to ground phones after a couple of tries. Calls made from the ground to the plane, though, tended to go directly to voice mail.

Only six passengers could get a signal at one time — to avoid interfering with the aircraft equipment. OnAir, the company that supplies the technology, said that number could soon double to 12 and possibly more in coming weeks. Since it was difficult to reach passengers in midair, ring tones did not sound, granting passengers on the test flight a silence that is sure to be filled once the technology improves.

BlackBerry users who tried to download e-mail messages found themselves engaged in an effort in futility.

Working out the kinks is probably only a matter of time. The bigger issue is whether the airlines will confront a backlash among passengers who simply want a quiet flight.

For that reason, Lufthansa, Europe’s second-largest carrier, after Air France KLM, has said it will not offer the service, after travelers made clear their distaste.

“Our passengers have told us that they don’t want to have the noise on board,” said Thomas Jachnow, a spokesman for Lufthansa, which is based in Frankfurt. “They say, ‘There will be mobiles ringing and people talking, and meanwhile I have to sleep because I have to be relaxed for a business meeting the next morning,’ ” he said. “They don’t want to be disturbed.”

Andrea Barany, a civil servant from Budapest who took the Air France test flight to Vienna, declined to snap open her cellphone. “I don’t need to be contactable all the time,” she said. “I can wait until we land.”

Linda Woolard, who was part of a group of Roman Catholics from Ohio visiting religious sites in Europe, was not pleased with the intrusion either. “It’s better to be without a cellphone,” she said. “It’s gone far too far. Let’s cut down the stress of life and go back to the way we lived without them.”

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission bars the use of cellphones in midair. The initial ban was imposed out of fear of interference with both onboard communications and cellular networks on the ground. Several airlines have announced plans to offer broad Web access, which, in theory, could allow travelers the option of making phone calls over the Internet. But the airlines have said they will not offer that service — at least for now.

The technology being tested in Europe links a traveler’s mobile phone to an onboard network connected to the ground via satellite. Transmission levels are at low enough power to avoid affecting the safety of aircraft equipment.

The system uses an onboard base station in the plane that communicates with passengers’ phones. Through low power, the connection creates a wireless network within the cabin.

The base station routes phone traffic to and from the plane through a satellite, which beams the signal to ground receivers. The control unit on the plane, meanwhile, ensures that cellphones do not connect to any base stations on the ground.

It has long been technically possible for travelers to make or receive cellphone calls, below a certain altitude. That is why passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, one of the four planes hijacked in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, were able to call emergency officials and family members before the plane went down.

If passengers are going to be allowed to make calls, airlines want to control it, mostly because it could serve as an additional source of much-needed revenue. “Mobiles have become such an extension of people’s lives that it is only natural to bring it into air travel,” said Peter Sherrard, head of communications for Ryanair. “We are not concerned about the noise because our cabins have never been quiet places. People are constantly coming up and down the aisles selling scratch cards or food and we believe there is a market for this.”

Ryanair, based in Ireland, plans to start its service with 20 aircraft before expanding to its entire fleet of 163 planes. Mr. Sherrard added that the airline had a private arrangement with OnAir, which owns the network operating in the plane and which, in turn, bills the passengers’ provider.

To be able to phone in flight, passengers must have a roaming agreement with their mobile phone service that allows them to make international calls. The rates are determined by each network provider. OnAir estimates they will average about 2 to 3 euros a minute.

Although Mr. Germain, the BP manager, seemed pleased that his cellphone connected to his office, he said he remained of two minds about navigating in an increasingly connected world.

An enthusiastic user of new technology, he said he often took the high-speed train from Paris to Marseilles because he could use his laptop computer, cellphone and e-mail provider on board. And if airlines started to offer the same possibilities with shorter travel times, he said he might consider switching.

On the other hand, he said, he remains nostalgic for the days when travel was still a “zone of calm.”

Source :


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