Europe will soon allow phone calls on flights.  Will the United States be next?

Europe will soon allow phone calls on flights. Will the United States be next?


You will soon be able to say goodbye to airplane mode, at least in Europe.

The European Commission decided late last month to allow airlines to provide 5G connectivity to passengers on board, including for phone calls and high-speed data. EU member states have until the end of June 2023 to reserve 5G frequency bands for aircraft.

“5G will enable innovative services for people and growth opportunities for European businesses,” said Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, during the announcement. “The sky is no longer the limit when it comes to the possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity.”

The EU’s decision is a sharp departure from the United States, where fears of 5G antennas on the ground interfering with aircraft equipment led to flight cancellations and hijackings earlier this year. Cellular carriers are still limiting 5G near airports until airlines can upgrade their planes.

Here’s why experts said Europe’s move isn’t likely to trigger the end of airplane mode in US skies.

Flying is terrible, but at least the WiFi is getting better

Europe uses different frequencies for 5G

US airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration are concerned that 5G will interfere with aircraft radio altimeters, which measure altitude and are essential for low-visibility landings. Altimeters operate at frequencies around 4.2 to 4.4 GHz, and some altimeters without modern filtering technology can pick up interference from devices operating at nearby frequencies.

5G networks in the United States use 3.7 and 3.98 GHz, which offers relatively little “spacing” from the altimeter frequency, said Shrihari Pandit, co-founder and CEO of the internet provider. Stealth Communications.

“If you don’t have this type of [filter] to keep the signal in sync, it can pick up background noise, such as from in-vehicle devices, and that could distort readings,” Pandit said.

Cellular carriers and the aviation industry have presented conflicting studies on how 5G affects altimeters. Airlines are retrofitting their planes to improve altimeter sensitivity or add metal shielding to reduce 5G interference; they recently asked mobile carriers for an extension from July 2023 to the end of 2023 to complete the upgrades, according to Reuters.

In Europe, however, 5G operates in a 5 GHz and higher frequency band, providing much greater spacing over the altimeter frequency and reducing airline concerns.

“There is much less chance of interference,” Dai Whittingham, CEO of the UK Flight Safety Committee, told the BBC. “We have a different set of frequencies for 5G, and there are lower power settings than what has been allowed in the US”

Indoor Parks, $2 Billion Renovations: America’s Airport Glow

Airplanes are a “tin can”

Pandit said another concern, even in Europe, is the power output of hundreds of devices collectively searching for a signal in an aircraft’s “tin can”.

Cell phones send out their strongest signals when they try to connect to an antenna, which means “the cumulative power output is going to be quite large,” he said.

It’s unclear what impact such a strong signal could have, but it raises concerns for aircraft electronic equipment and the health of passengers, he said. Aircraft may need even more sensitive altimeters and RF shielding to prevent cabin leakage to electronics below, he noted.

Tom Wheeler, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and now a visiting fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said concerns about altimeter interference were greatly exaggerated.

“The reality is that the vast, vast majority of planes have altimeters that are shielded from signals,” he said, and older models are being replaced or shielded.

Wheeler also noted that planes are exposed to powerful radio frequency emissions when on or near the ground and operate without any issues.

“The plane’s fuselage is exposed to all sorts of RF emissions that far exceed what the cellphone in seat 10C could do,” he said.

Wireless carriers will limit 5G near airports after airlines warn of major disruptions

European airlines will rely on router-like ‘picocells’

To provide reliable air service, European airlines will use picocells, according to the EU announcement. Picocells act like mini cellphone towers that send a low-power signal over a small area, like an airplane, reducing the need for devices to hop between towers, Wheeler said.

These picocells will either connect to satellite networks or to ground networks, such as a WiFi router or hotspot, Pandit said.

Wheeler said advances in picocell technology largely alleviated the technical issues that led to the banning of in-flight cellphone use.

“The result of [picocells] was that you could use mobile devices on planes because they didn’t interfere with terrestrial antennas,” he said.

Sensing the technical issues were over, Wheeler led an FCC effort in 2013 to consider lifting a ban on cellphone use on US planes. But he said he quickly ran into resistance from the FAA and the airline industry over an entirely separate concern: People are “yelling” on their cellphones.

In-flight calls impact customer experience

“All hell broke loose because it turns out the airlines and the FAA were relying on this rule to stop people talking on their cellphones,” Wheeler said.

Regulatory proceedings regarding the rule were ultimately stalled due to customer experience issues, Wheeler said. Ajit Pai, then chairman of the FCC, said in 2017 he stood “with airline pilots, flight attendants and the American air public against the FCC’s ill-conceived plan in 2013,” Reuters reported, and the effort officially ended in 2020.

Wheeler said the US ban on in-flight cellphone use stems from a “different technical reality”, but any move towards Europe to lift it would also have to consider the passenger experience.

Pandit said he was neutral on the EU decision but preferred a quiet cabin and questioned the need for 5G as most airlines now offer in-flight WiFi.

“There are definitely apps for business – you want to be connected, but I’m just wondering if WiFi isn’t enough?” he said. “Almost any device that supports 4G or 5G will have WiFi capability.”

#Europe #phone #calls #flights #United #States

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *