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Aerophone slashes cost of mobile calls from planes

Antony Savvas

A new platform from Aerophone could allow users to make cheap worldwide mobile phone calls from planes.

The Israeli firm said call costs could be as low as 80p a minute for passengers and still offer a decent margin to airlines. Satellite-based phone calls from planes currently cost passengers a lot more than this.

The Aerophone system allows passengers to use their normal mobile phones. The installation and operation of comms equipment is free of charge for airlines.

Calls are made independently of GSM/CDMA (Global System Mobile/Code Division Multiple Access) ground stations. The Aerophone system supports all wavebands and requires neither prior written registration of passengers nor a particular billing system calls are invoiced via the passenger's normal mobile phone bill.

Development has been made possible by the installation of so-called picocells (miniature GSM stations) in aircraft, and the roll-out of servers and transceivers for linking to telecoms satellites and receiving stations for the Ku band.

Picocells in the immediate vicinity of passengers would automatically reduce the energy output of the logged-in mobile phones to a minimum, said Aerophone.

The company added that electromagnetic radiation of mobile phones under its system had no negative effects on aircraft electronic systems, based on the latest studies in this area.

In small aircraft, mobile phone calls are transferred to the satellite system. Up to 24 calls can be simultaneously relayed to terrestrial phone networks via receiving stations and gateways.

In larger aircraft an additional transceiver for the Ku band (10.7 to 17.8GHz) allows up to 96 calls simultaneously.

Since the bandwidth for connections is limited, Aerophone said that only phone calls and communication via short messages were currently achievable.

The company is promising free hardware to the airlines to support its system and is negotiating a share of call charges with the telecom operators.

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