EU waves through Airbus mobile phone system
There seems to be some confusion over the EU approval of the SITA-Airbus joint venture to put mobile phones onto aircraft. The approval has been granted- but it's a political approval, not a technical one - not yet.
It remains to be seen if the magic works, and gets approval from Authority, but that looks likely. Meanwhile, commercial approval is given.
The official announcement says, formally enough: "The European Commission has granted approval under the EU Merger Regulation to Airbus Group (France) and SITA (Netherlands) to form a joint venture, named OnAir."
The OnAir project "will develop and provide the nascent onboard communication services for commercial aircraft (such as in-flight telephony, SMS, email, Internet and GSM onboard)," continues the announcement. The Commission concluded that "the joint venture will not significantly impede effective competition in those markets."
That's hardly surprising. What was surprising - at least, to some in the industry was the revelation back in September, that the OnAir gear will be very little more than a simple GSM or CDMA or WCDMA picocell on board the aircraft. According to Airbus, after completing proving flights, most of the work remaining to be done was going to "productising and certification."
Back in September, Airbus special projects director Philippe Chenevier said the company had proved that ordinary mobile phones can be safely used on board aircraft, providing simple steps are taking to restrict their transmit power.
This has the added benefit of preventing their signal reaching the ground. The only definite, uncontroversial problem with mobile phones in the air is that they try to register with dozens, maybe hundreds, perhaps even (in a dense urban area) thousands of ground cells and microcells.
According to Reuters this week, the creation of OnAir was announced in July, which is slightly odd, because neither Airbus nor SITA would reveal the name of the project at the World Airline Entertainment Association annual conference and exhibition in September.
An important part of the Airbus story is that its technology is not restricted to Airbus operators; the technology will be suitable for use in Boeing aircraft as well.
Airlines are busy rolling out plans to offer onboard Internet services and Airbus rival Boeing Co, for example, has developed Connexion, an onboard broadband Internet service.
Germany's Lufthansa has already launched an internet service under the name Lufthansa FlyNet aboard some planes. It is due to be available on all long haul flights by the end of this year.
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