Feeds

Virgin straps on phone masts for the flying upper classes

'HELLO? Hello darling, I'm on a Virgin- What? No..'

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Flyers heading to New York on Virgin Atlantic will be able to make calls from the plane, thanks to a mobile mobile base station and a satellite uplink, but expect to pay through the nose for a service which hasn't proved popular elsewhere.

Only customers of O2 and Vodafone will be able to connect at all, and those will be billed at international roaming rates, but the airline is pushing the GPRS data and texting potential of the service rather than voice calling, as the latter will be restricted by the limited bandwidth available – and has proved surprisingly unpopular on other airlines.

Virgin is proudly calling itself "the first British airline to provide passengers with a service to make and receive phone calls", but Ryanair was the first one "operating from the UK" back in 2009. Ryanair saw mobile calls as another way to subsidise its unfeasibly low ticket prices, but it turned out no one was interested in making calls from the air, so the service was quietly dropped a year or two later.

Lufthansa has also flirted with in-flight calling, but has shelved the service despite fitting out a good number of its planes with the requisite hardware.

Connectivity has to be by satellite, which means a dish mounted (ideally) atop the plane. A traditional dish would obviously be something of a wind drag, but various technical solutions exist though none solve the problem of latency (the time it takes to bounce the signal off the satellite) and cost (satellites are getting cheaper, but are still epically expensive).

From an interfering-with-instruments point of view, having a base station on the plane is, ironically, safer than not. Phones are regularly left switched on in aircraft by accident, despite the dire warnings, and once in the air those handsets ratchet up their broadcast power in the hope of connecting to terrestrial base stations. If they succeed it just pisses off the mobile operator, as the handsets switch cells faster than the systems can cope with, and if they fail then they keep transmitting at full power in the hopes of connecting.

But a base station on the plane allows the handsets to transmit at very low power, reducing the already minimal chance of interference.

Virgin is fitting the new kit as part of its overhaul of the Upper Class cabins, which are getting USB charging sockets and touch-screen entertainment, so there's no telling how far back the signal will propagate. By the end of 2012 we're told that around 20 aircraft will have been fitted out, so we'll have to wait until then to find out if anyone's actually interested in keeping in touch from the air, and willing to pay to do so. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
6 Obvious Reasons Why Facebook Will Ban This Article (Thank God)
Clampdown on clickbait ... and El Reg is OK with this
So, Apple won't sell cheap kit? Prepare the iOS garden wall WRECKING BALL
It can throw the low cost race if it looks to the cloud
EE fails to apologise for HUGE T-Mobile outage that hit Brits on Friday
Customer: 'Please change your name to occasionally somewhere'
Time Warner Cable customers SQUEAL as US network goes offline
A rude awakening: North Americans greeted with outage drama
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
BT customers face broadband and landline price hikes
Poor punters won't be affected, telecoms giant claims
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?