Ofcom has released a consultation today on the introduction of mobile services on aircraft that are registered in the UK. The current proposals see the introduction of GSM (and GPRS) in the 1800 MHz band, with a possible extension to further technologies such as 3G if it proves successful. Much work is occurring in Europe to try and introduce Mobile Communications onboard Aircraft (MCA) and the choice for GSM was made initially as it is a widely incorporated standard, with almost all European mobile phones being compatible. European wide standards are expected to be introduced which each member state will have to take on board for their own implementations.
Previously, restrictions were in place that limited the roll out of MCA based on safety concerns with regards interference with aircraft's communication and navigation systems, as well as interference to ground based mobile networks. Work has been taking place in this area with the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) granting the first airworthiness certificate for MCA to the Airbus 318 in June 2007.
The technical implementation of such a system is based around a pico cell located onboard the aircraft (with a leaky feeder antenna) utilising a satellite backhaul to link the service back to the ground network. The airline would operate the radio license for the service, and arrange suitable agreements for interconnection with the terrestrial mobile networks. Tariffs to the end user are likely to be higher than existing mobile calls and roaming charges due to the increased cost of running the system.
MCA will not be available for the entirety of a flight. Due to interference with ground based networks, the Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) has stipulated that the absolute minimum height above ground level for any transmissions should be no less than 3,000 metres, although in practice this may be set higher.
Several airlines have pre-announced plans to launch MCA, and it is a significant step forward in making communication ubiquitous. The proposals set out a starting block which will allow people to access mobile Internet based services from virtually anywhere in the world. With the possibilities of extension into higher speed services available via 3G, people will be able to make use of time in flight to get on with business as usual.
The full consultation document, with details on how to respond, can be found here.