Monday, August 02, 2010

Australia - Use of mobile phones of planes will be possible, but at international mobile roaming rates

[abc] Australians could soon be able to use their mobile phones in flight after the latest ruling from the national communications watchdog.

Phones were banned on board flights because of their potential to interfere with navigational equipment but new technology has changed that.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has now approved phone use after consultation with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

ACMA spokesman Chris Chapman says it is now up to airlines to decide what services can be used.

"Whether they have simple tweeting or data download availability or allow full-scale voice-calls, which is the matter that probably would irk a lot of people understandably, that's a matter entirely for the airlines," he said.

But Mr Chapman says a special on-board system that relays mobile signals must be installed.

"This particular technology, which was the one applied for, has been approved and that will give the optionality, if you like, to the airlines."

But that system cannot carry more than one signal provider, which means phone use could be limited to customers of one telecommunications network.

The pico-cell control unit blocks onboard mobile handsets from receiving signals from terrestrial base stations and the pico-cell acts as a base station and transmits to terrestrial networks via satellite.

So far, only one carrier, Aeromobile, a subsidiary of Norwegian telco Telenor, is able to provide the service, which will cost users international roaming charges despite the communications taking place in domestic skies.

Texts alone can be up to 10 times the price of standards texts.

In its submission to ACMA, Telstra said the proposed scheme would artificially restrict mobile traffic to one provider aboard each aircraft and deny Australian consumers access to the country's competitive mobile market.

ACMA says that should alternative, safe methods of mobile communication on aircraft be proposed for commercial operation in future, including those that access Australia's terrestrial networks, then it will move to consider those methods.

Mobiles to take off on Australian flights

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