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EU approves on-board GSM for cruisers

But no 3G on the high seas

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The EU has approved the use of on-boat GSM base stations, but users will have to remain below decks once they're within a couple of miles of the shore.

The agreement covers all ships in European waters. Those on board will be able to run GSM services at 900 and 1800MHz as long as they stay below decks once they vessel is within 12 nautical miles of the coast (22.2km), and switch to land-based networks at two (3.7km).

Many cruisers already run mobile phone networks and Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly common, allowing passengers to make ludicrously expensive phone calls and download porn over satellite connections in the same way they soon will on aeroplanes.

But those networks currently have to switch off a long way from shore unless the operator gets a license for every EU country. This legislation changes that - get a license for one country and you can run your picocells up to a couple of nautical miles off the coast of anyone in the EU.

Practically, this means a ferry company can do a deal with an operator in one country, and then use that operator's frequencies all over the seas around Europe.

Part of the problem is interference, but innocent parties at the beach may find their phone has logged onto a passing cruise ship's network and is routing their call over a satellite connection - with associated expense.

And such calls are pricey - on-board GSM is specifically excluded from the EU rules on roaming rates, so ship operators are free to charge what they like.

Also excluded are 3G services, as well as GSM systems operating outside the 900/1800 bands, though the latter wouldn't be European anyway, so are of no interest to the EU. ®

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