Advancements in Wi-Fi technology set to increase the use of passenger wireless devices on flights, says Bashar Dahabra
The use of wireless communication devices, including mobile phones, on board commercial flights could become as common as on ground, thanks to advancements in Wi-Fi technology and efforts by aircraft manufacturers to ensure functionality of cell phones, laptops and other electronic equipment on all flights, says Bashar Dahabra, Founder and General Manager, Info2cell.com.
High-speed Internet is also set to become a common phenomenon on all flights, as a number of aircraft manufacturers and airlines are trailing the service, with a high degree of success and support from aviation authorities.
All this means that the often repeated myth that wireless communications devices interfere with the aircraft’s communication systems could be dismissed by advancing technology that would allow passengers to use wireless devices, including mobile phones, throughout the flight, according to Dahabra, one of the pioneers in the Middle East in wireless information services.
“For quite some time, all of us have been led to believe that using a passenger mobile phone could seriously affect aircraft’s onboard navigation systems,” said Dahabra. “Studies done over the past few years have shown that there is no proof about mobile phone signals interfering with communication between pilots and air traffic controls. At the same time, newer advancements in wireless communications technology have eliminated the last lingering doubts about mobile devices interfering with navigation systems of the aircraft.”
The day when wireless communications will be allowed for all passengers seems to be very near, according to Dahabra. A number of airlines around the world are planning to permit use of cell phones on flights, some as early as late 2006.
A recent research by Airbus has shown that electronic devices, mobile phones and wireless devices can be used on airplanes without interfering with navigation systems. Until now, many airlines had banned the use of mobile phones during take-off, flight and landing because of fears that they will interfere with aircraft systems and disrupt the two-way radio used by pilots. But the two-year research project carried out by Airbus, and backed by the European Commission, has found that handsets can be used safely on aircraft during flight. The trials, carried out on an A320, successfully tested both voice calls and the sending of text messages to and from phones onboard the aircraft. It also trialled several wireless network technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and wideband CDMA.
Broadband Internet for all is also not far away, according to Dahabra. Several airlines, including Lufthansa, Japan Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines System, All Nippon Airways, China Airlines and Singapore Airline have signed up for a new service that delivers broadband connection to planes through a global satellite network and is distributed throughout the plane via a WiFi 802.11b connection, which Boeing will upgrade to support 802.11a, b and g. In the next 10 years, Boeing expects to outfit between 4,000 and 4,800 flights, out of about 12,000 commercial airplanes that now regularly take to the skies. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has already approved the high-speed Internet service
“The clear message is that the altitude of 30,000 feet should be no major constraint for wireless communication for all in this age where mobile computing and wireless messaging are key drivers in business and personal life,” says Dahabra. “If we cannot communicate while flying with the same ease as we do on ground, exchanging text messages and images, there is something lacking in our lives. Info2cell.com is excited about the immense possibilities for further growth this development brings.”
Dahabra said there is plenty of behind-the-scenes activity going on to usher in the inflight wireless communications revolution that will add a dynamic new amenity to commercial passengers, with declining costs. Airlines are going ahead with plans to equip their aircraft with advanced systems that will enable passengers to use their mobile devices all the time, encouraged by the altered viewpoint that cell phones or Wi-Fi enabled devices pose no risk to an aircraft’s communication systems.
According to modern thinking, the common directive not to use individual mobile devices on board was based on theoretical dangers. At present there is no data to prove that Wi-Fi affects the radio communications between the pilot and traffic control authorities. As this theory gains ground, more and more airlines would provide the infrastructure to enable wireless communications on board in the near future.
“The key factor now is of cost. It would be an expensive proposition to outfit a plane with the necessary equipment that will facilitate use of mobile phones and high-speed Internet connections through the frequencies used by seatback phones,” said Dahabra. “This would, of course, be passed on to the end-user. However, as this technology becomes common and the number of users rise, the costs could come down considerably, bringing real mobility to the doorstep of every air traveller.”