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Inflight mobile phone calls coming soon

UK telecoms regulator pushes proposal to allow GSM mobile calls on aircraft in Europe

Airline passengers travelling in Europe could soon be able to use their mobile phones while in flight, if plans proposed by telecoms regulators are approved.

The UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has issued a proposal document on the conditions and terms that it believes should be put into place for providing Mobile Communications on Aircraft (MCA).

The proposal would still require the clearance of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), but it could pave the way to a standards based framework to provide MCA without endangering the aircraft.

The Ofcom proposal would allow mobile communications using the GSM 1800 MHz band, once the aircraft flies higher than 3000m (9800ft). Aircraft would be equipped with a low-power pico cell base station that would handle calls made by passengers.

A Network Control Unit would stop passenger's phones from transmitting directly from the aircraft, to prevent interference with the aircraft's communication and navigation equipment and with other ground-based stations.

The mobile signal would be transmitted by the plane's base station to satellite, and then into a ground base station that would route traffic back into the GSM network.

Under the proposal either the airline would act as the operator or a third party could provide the service on the plane. Ofcom said that it would be sensitive to overly high charges for MCA, and that safety would have to be of paramount concern, but it would be up to airlines to decide if inflight mobile use would be a valuable service or a nuisance.

"Some consumers have suggested that the use of mobiles during flight will irritate other passengers... some of their concerns stem from the prospect of a long journey sitting next to someone speaking loudly on their mobile," the report states. "However there are many ways in which some passengers can annoy others, and in these cases it is a matter for airlines and aircraft operators how to balance the services they offer to their passengers with the impact they have."

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