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US Could Follow Europe In Allowing In-Flight Mobile Phone Use

aircraft plane 4G 3G tablet iPad in flight © Shutterstock Shutter_M
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FCC says it is considering in-flight mobile phone use above 3,000 metres

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed to ease regulations regarding the use of mobile phones on US-based aircraft so that passengers can make calls, send texts and access data services once the plane is 3,000 metres above the ground.

This would bring the US in line with a ruling made by the European Commission (EC) last week to permit the in-flight use of 3G and 4G services above a certain altitude and follows a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow certain electronic devices to be used during take-off and landing so long as ‘Flight Mode’ is enabled.

In-flight mobile

Virgin Atlantic“Today, we circulated a proposal to expand consumer access and choice for in-flight mobile broadband,” says FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules

“I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA, and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers.”

If the proposals are approved by the five members of the FCC at a meeting on 12 December, it would be up to airlines to decide whether to allow passengers to use their phones, but according to Reuters, a number of carriers, including Delta and Southwest Airlines, say they would not exercise this option as passengers don’t want it.

Mixed reaction

There are also concerns that flight attendants would face a difficult task in ensuring that mobile devices are not connected before the plane has reached the minimum altitude. Unsurprisingly though, the telecommunications industry is supportive of the proposals, with in-flight mobile operator AeroMobile claiming it would bring benefits for both airlines and travellers.

“We are in an era where being connected is expected and most airline passengers travel with a smartphone,” says AeroMobile CEO Kevin Rogers. “Enabling mobile connectivity will enhance consumer choice and complement other inflight connectivity options available today.

“The AeroMobile service operates almost seamlessly across the world, with the notable exception of the United States. We have many connected flights flying to and from the US every day, and being able to offer connectivity in US airspace will make a huge difference to the passenger experience.”

Some US airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi networks, but 2G mobile services have been approved for European airlines since 2008, with signals received via an antenna on board the aircraft and sent to the ground network via a satellite connection.

This signal is weak so it does not interfere with other communications, but it is widely accepted that GSM networks are impractical for sending large amounts of data.

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