Some would say – finally! The European Commission introduced new rules that will allow wireless communication technology to be used on board aircrafts flying over EU. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will publish guidelines soon which will extend to all phases of flight the possibility to use personal electronic devices, as long as the devices are in “flight mode” like smart-phones and tablets.
3G and 4G on board
The new rules were drawn up on the basis of studies by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations for the European Commission.
»This is a major step in the process of expanding the freedom to use personal electronic devices on-board aircraft without compromise in safety« said Patrick Ky, Executive Director of EASA.
Until 2008, one could use MCA (mobile communications on-board aircraft) only on telephone systems owned by the airline. From 2008 until now, only 2G (GSM) was allowed on airplanes flying in the EU, which was not very useful if you wanted to send larger files or watch a video. But from now on you will be able to also use 3G (UMTS) and latest 4G (LTE) communications; for safety reasons these services will be available only at altitudes of above 3000 metres.
In order for the service to work, specific hardware will have to be installed on an individual airplane. It is the possibility for airlines to offer this service, rather than a right for passengers. If the airline decide to equip one of its planes with the hardware, above 3000 meters of altitude passengers will have access to the internet at all times, making the use of social networks and the sending of emails possible.
Since airline passengers are increasingly more demanding, this is an opportunity for airlines to increase their added values, remaining in charge of what services they choose to equip their planes with.
What is MCA technology and how does it work?
Mobile communications on aircraft (MCA) includes the in-flight use of normal mobile phones and other devices such as tablets and laptops to make calls, send and receive messages, and other communications such as e-mails and social networks.
An antenna on board the aircraft will receive the signal and send it to the ground network through a satellite connection. The signal will be limited in order not to interfere with other communications.
The MCA consists out of three main parts: the mobile terminals, the Network Control Unit, and the aircraft base station. Mobile terminals are electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, while the Network Control Unit is an interface installed on a plane that makes sure devices connect only to an Aircraft Base Station; this is the antenna in a form of a cable running along the ceiling of the cabin making sure that electronic devices cannot interfere with ground-based systems.
Passengers will not be using 3G and 4G directly between mobile devices and the ground. 3G and 4G technology only concerns the way personal electronic devices connect to the antenna inside the cabin. After that, the signal is processed and will connect the user through satellite.
All that airlines will have to do is to allow service providers to “come on-board”. The prices will be set by the providers themselves, as MCA providers are to be a virtual country that will charge the users.