Europe gets in flight mobile usage off the ground

The chatter of mobile phone conversions could soon be a common occurrence on flights, as UK comms regulator Ofcom sets out proposals enabling airlines to offer mobile communication services.

In the proposal released Thursday, Ofcom said its objective is to create opportunities for companies to develop innovative technologies and in particular to make the most efficient use of the radio spectrum.

The proposals have been developed jointly with other EU countries and are intended to cover all European airspace.

Individual airlines will be left to judge whether there is consumer demand for these services and the installation of mobile base stations on aircraft will only be allowed when approved by the relevant UK and European aviation authorities.

The proposed system would see an on board base station which connects to the passengers’ own mobile phone installed on the plane. Once the aircraft reaches a minimum height of 3000 metres, the system may be switched on by the cabin crew allowing mobile handsets to service to make and receive calls which will be routed via a satellite link to the network on the ground.

Calls will be billed through users’ normal service providers, presumably at the normal local or roaming rates.

If successful, the service could be extended to 3G and other standards in the future.

Australia has already issued a licence to operate in flight mobile services. The earliest that services could be available from UK registered airlines is 2008.

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