Mobile calls go airborne

Air passengers could soon cringe to the cry of: ‘Hello, I’m on the plane,’ thanks to plans by Ofcom to allow airlines to offer mobile communication services on UK-registered aircraft.

This will be subject to passenger safety approval by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK. The decision, which follows Ofcom proposals published in October 2007, has been developed jointly with other EU countries and will enable use in European airspace. If approved, airlines will be judge whether there is consumer demand for these services.

The system works by passengers’ own mobile phone handsets connecting to an on-board base station. Both of these must be switched off during take-off and landing to ensure they do not interfere with mobile networks on the ground.

Once the aircraft reaches a minimum height of 3,000m, the cabin crew may switch on the system. Mobile handsets will then be able to use the aircraft’s network 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 passengers’ normal service providers.

Mobile phones will connect to the system for 2G (GSM) data, voice and text services. If the service is successful it could be extended to 3G and other services in future.