Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mobile internet access will change the way people fly

A recent announcement from the European Commission is set to change the way people fly, with in-flight 3G and 4G broadband soon to be available on European flights. In the meantime, passengers will have to pay what are often exorbitant roaming charges to use the service; however, this could soon change with proposals made to scrap these charges by 2016.

The new guidance from the European Commission gives airlines the permission to offer both 3G and 4G connectivity to their passengers, who will now be able to surf the web and send emails whilst in flight. When they arrive at their destination, there are mobile data providers likeMobi-data that allow travellers to connect to foreign networks more cheaply than ever before.

The new 3G (UMTS) and 4G (LTE) communication technology is set to replace the existing 2G (GSM), which until now was the only technology permitted for use on flights travelling within the EU. To enable the use of the new technology, communications will only be permissible above an altitude of 3,000 metres. The existing rules for flights travelling through Europe will also be adapted to take account of the new technology. This news comes as the US considers proposals to allow mobile use on planes.

Which devices can you use?

The announcement by the European Commission was made in the wake of a decision by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to allow personal devices to be used on planes travelling within its jurisdiction.

Personal electronic devices such as smartphones, e-readers and tablets can be used at any stage of the flight. However, there will still be rules prohibiting laptop use during take-off, landing and taxiing. Due to their bulky size, laptops should be stowed away during these periods as a safety requirement.

The airlines call the shots

The move to increase the range of communication options onboard flights in the EU is a response to increasing demand from passengers, who are more inclined to text and send and receive emails than they are to make or receive voice calls.

To provide the improved in-flight connectivity, airlines will be required to fit an improved version of their mobile communication on-board aircraft system to allow 3G and 4G compatibility. The new systems will be fitted with a low power signal to ensure there is no interference with any of the plane’s onboard communication systems.

Each airline will reserve the right to choose which of the new services they offer onboard their aircraft, if any. Far from hindering passengers, this could spare the passengers’ blushes, who must remain mindful of the roaming charges which will apply to onboard communications. Passengers will be billed for this service by their service provider.

Any aircraft wishing to offer the new service will need to be fitted with a Network Control Unit, which works much like a jammer to prevent any electronic devices onboard the plane from interfering with systems on the ground. It is for this reason that 3G and 4G services will only be safe to use above an altitude of 3,000 meters. 

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