SwiftBroadband Cellphone Services Coming

 - November 5, 2007, 7:37 AM

The Federal Communications Commission has said it won’t continue exploring the feasibility of allowing passengers to use their personal cellphones to make calls in flight, basing its decision on concerns raised by cellular providers over possible airborne interference with ground networks. European and other government authorities apparently do not share these concerns, clearing the way for a number of airlines to begin trials of services that route GSM cellphone calls through the onboard SwiftBroadband satcom link. 

Mobile telephony service provider OnAir announced recently that the EASA has certified the airborne GSM equipment that supports its service, which is expected
to begin flying soon aboard a number of Air France Airbus A318s and RyanAir Boeing 737s. Passengers will be permitted to use Blackberry and similar handheld PDAs to send and receive e-mails and text messages, as well as to make and receive voice calls. An OnAir spokesman said the UK-based company is not currently targeting business aviation or the U.S. market, but he added that the service will come eventually.

A competing service from AeroMobile, a company formed jointly by Arinc and Telenor, has been operating since April aboard a number of Qantas Boeing 767s and will enter trials on select Emirates flights in the next couple of months. To date, more than 11,000 passengers have used their own cellphones to make calls and send text messages during 1,000 hours of flight trials. Like OnAir, AeroMobile has said it will concentrate on rolling out service to the airline market before addressing business aviation customers.

Inmarsat head of aeronautical marketing Lars Ringertz said the OnAir and AeroMobile business models will factor heavily into the success of SwiftBroadband in the airline market, especially when such access is coupled with Web update services and “near live” Internet access airlines are considering adding to their in-flight entertainment menus. “We will see Europe start offering additional data services on specific routes,” Ringertz said, after which “the FCC will at least start looking at the issue again. I actually think it will happen in the U.S.; it’s just a question of timing. It will take a little longer, that’s all.”