FCC Opens Discussion of Inflight Calling

The FCC voted 3-to-2 today on a Democratic-led measure seeking public comment on lifting the ban on in-flight calls aboard airliners.

The FCC order is not a change in the rules, explains C/Net, but rather a proposed rule-making that will seek comment from the public. The measure only opens the discussion for whether the technical ban should be lifted.

“This is a rule about technology,” said Wheeler. “It is not a rule about usage”. Allowing passengers to connect smartphones to cellular networks would encourage competition for in-flight services for text, e-mail and surfing the Web, according to the new FCC chief.

Airlines or other agencies could still prohibit talking on the phone.

JetBlue and ViaSat promise 12 Mbps to each connected passenger using in-flight Wi-Fi service powered by ViaSat’s Exede satellite broadband service.

While JetBlue is in their beta period, basic web browsing will be free on flights through June 2014 with a high-bandwidth plan available for purchase.

ViaSat hopes to have nearly 400 aircraft on JetBlue and other U.S. carriers by the end of 2015. The FCC granted ViaSat a blanket radio authorization for Ka-band aeronautical earth stations in 2013, is the first of its kind for mobile Ka-band services.

A low-profile airborne antenna connects with ViaSat’s Ka-band satellite fleet of ViaSat 1, WildBlue 1 and Anik F2. The 12 Mbps Fly-Fi service is designed to deliver Internet access to 50 to 70 personal devices simultaneously.

Industry observer Tim Farrar thinks bandwidth consumption per paying passenger might be at most 10%-15% for Row44 (which leases spectrum from satellite operators), and much less for Panasonic and Gogo’s Ku-band service (formerly known as AirCell), the terrestrial 800 MHz service. Gogo has satellite agreements with SES and Intelsat for international flights.

The European Commission gave airlines permission to offer their passengers Internet access via 3G and 4G connections. Europe’s new rules closely follow a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration decision in late October to lift the ban on using personal electronics during take-off and landing.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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