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In-Flight Phone Demo Rings True

A week-long test allowed airline passengers to sample high-speed, real-time Internet service including four channels of live TV and the ability to make and receive calls on mobile phones.
U.S.-based firms led by Connexion by Boeing have successfully completed another demonstration round of in-flight technology in Europe. Much of the technology announced Monday is earmarked for use by non-U.S. airlines while the firms continue to see regulatory approval for the technology to be used by U.S. airlines.

Connexion and its demo partner, UTStarcom, announced that the week-long test aboard a Boeing 737-400 enabled guests to sample high-speed, real-time Internet service including four channels of live TV. Using a satellite dish mounted on the plane's fuselage, passengers were able to make and receive phone calls on roaming-enabled mobile phones.

“The tests were conducting in no man's land away from coasts,” said Elissaveta Bahovska, Connexion spokeswoman. “At 30,000 feet, you can call and receive calls. It doesn't interfere with the aircraft's (communications).”

Partnering with Connexion, which is a unit of the Boeing Company, was California-based UTStarcom, which supplied its MovingMedia 2000 IP solution for 3G networks. MovingMedia employs used segments of Qualcomm's CDMA2000 1XEV-DV as they become available and it is backwards compatible with CDMA 2G.

Several non-U.S. airlines have rushed to implement the Connexion technology, but the Federal Communications Commission has held up the service in the U.S. The Connexion by Boeing service is already available on selected flights by Lufthansa, SAS, Japan Airlines, ANA, Singapore Airlines, China Airlines, Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, and El Al Israel Airlines. Etihad Airways and Austrian Airlines have said they plan to implement the service later.

“Enabling people to make and receive phone calls during flight demonstrated the flexibility of a high-speed connectivity system,” said Chris Peterson, Connexion's program manager for voice and cellular service, in a statement. “We allowed our guests to make calls to the ground while we flew over international waters.”

MovingMedia 2000 does not required TDM transmission backhaul and functions well over satellite transmission “making it an ideal solution to offer cellular service for passengers on commercial airlines,” stated Jack Mar, president of the CDMA/GSM division at UTStarcom.

Implementation of the service by U.S. airlines has been held up by regulatory issues. Many consumers and airline passengers have said they do not want to be subjected to loud talking on mobile phones by fellow passengers. The FCC is still evaluating in-flight telephony.

In a statement, David Friedman, Connexion's vice resident of marketing and direct sales, said: “We plan to make it available to our airline customers should they want it, once discussions between regulatory authorities and airline customers worldwide have been concluded, and the industry has come to an agreement on how to implement it in practice.”