The Herald of Everett, Washington
Customer service  |  Subscribe   |   Log in or sign up   |   Advertising information   |   Contact us
Heraldnet.com

The top local business stories in your email

Contact Us:

Josh O'Connor
Publisher
Phone: 425-339-3007
joconnor@heraldnet.com

Maureen Bozlinski
General Sales Manager
Phone: 425-339-3445
Fax: 425-339-3049
mbozlinksi@heraldnet.com

Jim Davis
Editor
Phone: 425-339-3097
jdavis@heraldnet.com

Site address:
1800 41st Street, S-300,
Everett, WA 98203

Mailing address:
P.O. Box 930
Everett, WA 98206

HBJ RSS feeds

How will in-flight cellphones work?

SHARE: facebook Twitter icon Linkedin icon Google+ icon Email icon |  PRINTER-FRIENDLY  |  COMMENTS
The Washington Post
Published:
It's been a whirlwind month for air travelers. On Oct. 31, the Federal Aviation Administration relaxed a long-standing ban on in-flight electronics. Then, Europe expanded passenger access to 3G and 4G data services on aircraft. Now, the Federal Communications Commission said it will consider new rules to allow phone calls from cruising altitudes.
Q: How is all this going to work?
A: Most likely, the system will look a lot like what Europe has. Air travelers over there have had access to in-flight data since 2008. Granted, you could surf only on 2G speeds until last week.
Europe calls its technology MCA, for mobile communications onboard aircraft. Every plane that supports it is equipped with a base station called a picocell that creates a mini-cellular network. All the wireless signals from your phone or tablet get collected by the base station, then are transmitted to a commercial communications satellite. The satellite then beams those transmissions down to Earth, where they link up with terrestrial networks and continue on their way like normal.
Q: Sounds great. What's the catch?
A: It's pretty costly. As long as you're on the picocell, your cellular provider charges you at international roaming rates. These extra fees go toward paying for the satellite connection and other costs. The good news is that if all cellular companies participate, it might crack the market for in-flight Internet wide open so that it's no longer dominated by pricey WiFi services. With any luck, the competition should drive prices down.
Q: What about signal interference? Won't this crash the plane?
A: Well, planes haven't started falling out of the sky in Europe yet, so I think we're okay.
Q: That's not very comforting.
A: Sorry. Here's a better answer: The reason airlines resort to the convoluted satellite method at all is to make sure that only low-power transmissions are involved. Newer technologies are being developed that allow direct air-to-ground communications, but they still generally suffer from limited bandwidth. The satellites provide much faster download rates than direct connections, at least for now.
Q: So what do I do about the guy who's blabbing on the phone across the aisle from me?
A: That's up to you. Unfortunately, airplanes don't come with quiet cars.

MORE HBJ HEADLINES

CALENDAR

Share your comments: Log in using your HeraldNet account or your Facebook, Twitter or Disqus profile. Comments that violate the rules are subject to removal. Please see our terms of use. Please note that you must verify your email address for your comments to appear.

You are logged in using your HeraldNet ID. Click here to update your profile. | Log out.

Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.

comments powered by Disqus

Market roundup