Farewell to “airplane mode”: we can finally talk on the phone on the plane

Farewell to “airplane mode”: we can finally talk on the phone on the plane

The first messages airline passengers receive before their flight takes off are to turn off their phones or put them on “airplane mode”. But this warning is about to disappear. The European Commission will designate specific frequencies of the new 5G network that will allow mobile phones to stay connected in flight.

In practice, the decision will allow airlines to allow customers to make and receive phone calls and text messages and use data as they would on the ground, according to the European Commission. The service will be offered using special networking equipment called a picocell, which connects the aircraft’s network to the ground via a satellite. “The sky is no longer the limit when it comes to the possibilities offered by ultra-fast, high-capacity connectivity,” Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market, said in a statement.

Airlines will be able to offer the latest 5G technology in their planes, according to the European Commission’s recent update on in-flight communication, which indicates the designation of certain 5G frequencies for user communication.

Currently, regulations require passengers to turn off their mobile phones or activate airplane mode before takeoff and throughout the flight. This practice is a safety measure to avoid interference with the aircraft’s electrical and telecommunications systems. Connecting to the Internet via wireless devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops is only possible via an internal Wi-Fi network offered by the airline, usually as a paid service.

However, the European Commission will now activate a specific frequency band for 5G use, ensuring that it does not interfere with any electronic devices on the plane so that the traveler can keep their mobile phone switched on. at any time. The network, however, will only operate at low altitudes and in favorable weather conditions. In addition, the captain can at any time order the extinction of mobile phones if he deems it appropriate. “5G will enable innovative services for people and growth opportunities for European businesses,” said Breton.

Safe but not free

Passengers will be able to use their phones on the plane, but that doesn’t mean it will be free. Mobile phone companies and airlines will likely charge a special rate, as the connection may involve connecting to networks in multiple countries, incurring roaming costs. In addition, the airlines will have to make a considerable investment in the equipment allowing the connection of the terrestrial mobile networks with the aircraft in flight.

The Commission has also introduced innovations for road transport, where Wi-Fi with 5 GHz frequency bands will be able to work in cars, buses and other means of transport. The measure will take effect on June 30, 2023 “at the latest”, according to the institution.

The measure sparked controversy when the first plans for its implementation were published. In 2020, the United States Federal Communications Commission rejected plans to allow in-flight voice and data services on mobile wireless frequencies, citing strong opposition, including from airline pilots and agents. board for safety and national security reasons.

Earlier this year, major US airlines sounded the alarm by sending a joint letter to major aviation regulators and the White House. They warned that if operators activated the 5G network near airports, they could compromise the safety of thousands of flights. The frequencies used by the new networks can interfere with those used by planes to measure their altitude, which can lead to catastrophic accidents. Emirates, Air India, Lufthansa, British Airways and Japan Airlines, among others, announced cancellations and changes to flights to the United States for this reason.

In Europe, however, the situation is different: the frequency margins are higher and there is no risk of interference. European authorities and air safety institutions have been working for more than two years to prevent any conflict.

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