Page Two

By Guy Kewney  |  Posted 2004-04-21 Print this article Print

What has happened is that theyve finally decided to wake up and smell the burned toast. Banning phones on flights doesnt work. What would work, however, is what the Wireless Cabin project proposes: use the Internet to route the calls to a local cell in the plane; then, the phones would cut back their transmit power to the point where the ground cells cant detect it. Of course, this would also have the secondary advantage of reducing any possible interference to the aircraft avionics. Whether it would actually work for making phone calls is another question. The latest cell phones are VOIP (voice over IP) devices and while the worlds mobile phone operators have gone to a lot of trouble to hide how easy it is to do VOIP, the trick isnt that simple over satellite uplinks. Add together all the latency issues and theres a pretty good chance that most calls would be pretty poor quality.
The proponents of Wireless Cabin say theres money to be made in in-flight phone calls—Im deeply skeptical. I think they have a simple choice of charging very little and seeing quite a few people make calls, or charging a premium and seeing nobody use it.
But thats not the point! The point is to stop these wireless devices from interfering with phone management software on the ground. And if phones can find a legitimate cell on the aircraft, theyll stop screaming, "Help! Im a poor lost lonely telephone!" to every cell for a radius of 20 miles around the spot below the plane. A final point for the anxious: If cell phones really were a clear and present danger to the aircraft, which is more likely—that airline staff would broadcast a bland announcement asking you to check that your phone is switched off, or that they would run a phone detector over you and your luggage? To put it another way, would you be reassured by this equally bland announcement: "Lethal weapons can be a hazard to flight safety, so we request that passengers not use them during this portion of the flight"? Check out eWEEKs Mobile & Wireless Center at for the latest news, reviews and analysis.
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