updated 10:00 am EDT, Mon April 7, 2008
EU Greenlights In-Air Call
The European Commission today opened the doors to cellphone service on commercial flights over the territory. Ending a near-universal ban on the practice, the organization has set out rules and established technology that it says should allow calling without endangering aircraft. Phones that support the 1,800MHz phone band will have the option of both making and receiving calls as well as SMS text messages while in flight. By using the specific frequency, airlines can force cellphones to connect to the picocell that shares the wireless connection rather than create interference with the aircraft's electronics, which can theoretically occur when the phones boost their signal strength to reach ground towers.
Flights will be safeguarded by preventing any phone use until an aircraft is at least 9,800 feet above the ground. Pilots will also have the option of shutting off the picocell themselves if it ever creates problems during a flight. Carriers further have the freedom to set additional rules for phone use and can require that callers set their phones to vibrate mode or keep voices low to avoid disturbing other passengers.
These services will vary in cost but are expected to cost no more than roaming on a normal ground-based network outside of the caller's normal coverage area. However, rules on roaming costs set last year don't apply as they only touch on ground-based services, the EC warns.
The relaxed conditions are expected to have a significant impact on European travel and the use of handsets on aircraft around the world by serving as a demonstration of the validity of in-flight calls. It's also anticipated to have a short-term impact on non-European travelers as in-air phone providers can establish roaming agreements that let calls take place either in strictly international waters or over countries with roaming agreements.