European group to test inflight mobile phone service

Two of the world's largest mobile phone technology groups are taking their rivalry into the sky with trials of services for...

Two of the world's largest mobile phone technology groups are taking their rivalry into the sky with trials of services for airline passengers.

Over the next few months, the European consortium Wireless Cabin plans to test a service that will allow airline passengers to make calls on flights with mobile phones based on GSM technology.

The test will follow a similar in-flight telephony trial based on rival Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, which was conducted by American Airlines and Qualcomm last month in the US.

Wireless Cabin, which includes Airbus Deutschland, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), Inmarsat, Siemens and Ericsson, wants to provide airline passengers and crew members with several wireless services, including mobile phone telephony, broadband wireless Lan and short-range Bluetooth.

The technologies of choice for the in-flight mobile phone service are circuit-switched GSM and packet-switched Universal Mobile Telecommunications System, the 3G technology supported by GSM operators and equipment manufacturers.

The Wireless Cabin consortium plans to test the mobile phone service as well as wireless Lan and Bluetooth services in an Airbus plane this year, said Josef Kolbinger, business director of Siemens' GSM radio infrastructure unit, which is supplying wireless access equipment for the project.

The American Airlines-Qualcomm test was approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission, which still prohibit the use of wireless phones on flights. The trial was aimed at easing their concerns over the possibility of mobile phones generating radiation that could disrupt a plane's on-board navigational equipment.

Radiation is also one of several key issues being addressed by the Wireless Cabin project, according to Kolbinger. Other issues include power supply, device sturdiness and size, and quality of service.

Kolbinger said he does npt expect to see a commercial in-flight mobile phone service launched based on the group's research before the end of 2005. That timeline, of course, will hinge on whether the GSM and CDMA technology groups convince the two US agencies to soften their stance against mobile phones in flight.

John Blau writes for IDG News Service

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