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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 October 2007, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Mobile phone use backed on planes
Mobile phone use is currently banned on planes
Passengers could soon be using their mobile phones on planes flying through European airspace.

Plans have been developed across EU countries to introduce technology which permits mobile calls without risk of interference with aircraft systems.

Regulators around Europe are calling for consultation on the potential introduction of the technology.

If given the go ahead, the service would allow calls to be made when a plane is more than 3,000 metres high.

Individual airlines would need to decide if they wanted to introduce the technology, if the green light is given by national regulators.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic said the airline was "watching developments closely".

She said: "We are monitoring customer demand and will act if they say they want to use their mobile phones."

She added: "If we were to introduce this service in the future we want to ensure we do it in a socially acceptable way."

The European Union has recommended to member states that the plan go ahead and space on the airwaves has been reserved for the technology.

The cost of making a mobile phone call from a plane will be higher than making one from the ground. In the UK, regulator Ofcom said it would investigate and address any evidence of "excessive charges and abuses of competition" if prices were set unfairly by airlines and mobile networks.

Mobile use is currently prohibited on planes because there is evidence that they interfere with onboard communication and navigation systems.

Research published in 2003 by the CAA found mobile phone signals skewed navigation bearing displays by up to five degrees.

Many stages

A spokesman for the UK regulator Ofcom said there were still many stages to pass through before final approval was given to the roll out of the plans.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), in the UK, and the European Aviation Safety Agency are working to ensure that aircraft safety and passenger welfare issues are resolved before these systems can be used.

The regulator said that the technology could be implemented next year.


The proposed system utilises an on-board base station in the plane which communicates with passengers' own handsets. The base station - called a pico cell - is low power and creates a network area big enough to encompass the cabin of the plane.

The base station routes phone traffic to a satellite, which is in turn connected to mobile networks on the ground.

A network control unit on the plane is used to ensure that mobiles in the plane do not connect to any base stations on the ground. It blocks the signal from the ground so that phones cannot connect and remain in an idle state.

Calls will be billed through passengers' mobile networks.

The current plan is for 2G phones only but Ofcom said that if services proved successful, it could be rolled out to 3G and other standards in the future.

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