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US group lobbies for the airborne mobile

Only for games, though

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A group in the US is seeking to standardise technology in consumer electronics devices so that people can use mobile phones and PDAs on airplanes. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has said that it wants to develop new industry standards so that people will be able to use certain functions on mobile phones and PDAs while on-board commercial aircraft. Such functions could include games, word processors, music players and other features, but would exclude wireless functionality, which can affect critical communications systems used by pilots.

At present, it is difficult for aircrews to determine if the wireless functionality on a mobile phone has been disabled. As a result, phones must be shut off entirely while the plane is in the air.

"Many wireless devices can operate without transmitting, such as the use of a game player on a mobile phone, or the use of a personal organiser on a wireless PDA," said Douglas Johnson, senior director for technology policy at the CEA. "In these and similar cases, we expect it will be useful for airline passengers and others to know and be able to verify whether the wireless part of their device is enabled or disabled."

A CEA working group, involving more than 35 representatives of wireless device and component manufacturers, airlines, pilots, and flight attendants, is developing an industry "recommended practice" in order to provide a standard way of showing that a wireless device's transmitter is disabled. The group aims to complete and distribute the recommended practice by autumn 2004.

The group has said that its code could also be used for other locations where phone use is restricted, such as hospitals.

The use of mobile phones in hospitals has been a matter of discussion on this side of the Atlantic in recent weeks, with Irish communications regulator ComReg saying that it is considering the introduction of so-called "interceptors," or devices that could be set up in hospitals and other locations that would prevent mobile users from making or receiving calls. Interceptors differ from phone-jamming equipment insofar as they allow calls to be made by people with special clearance, such as doctors or emergency workers.

Meanwhile, in the UK, at the British Medical Association's annual conference last week, doctors called for a lifting of the UK Department of Health's ban on the use of phones in hospitals. Led by Dr Simon Calvert, the doctors have argued that the risk posed by the use of mobiles - which can affect the operation of medical equipment - was minimal.

© ENN

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