Airline Partnering With AeroMobile To Offer Service
Passengers aboard Virgin Atlantic flights will soon be able to make cell phone calls and send text messages while travelling across the Atlantic, the airline announced Tuesday. Select aircraft will offer immediate availability of the service while a total of 20 aircraft will be equipped by year’s end. Partner AeroMobile will install a picocell in the cabin above the heads of passengers, which acts like a cell tower. Due to close proximity to passengers, cell phones will emit relatively low-power signals as they won’t have to work hard to maintain a network connection. The picocell uses the same satellite communications system as the airplane to connect calls. One of the caveats is limited availability in flight. AeroMobile says that because of capacity restraints in existing satellite communications systems, their picocell could only connect to six mobile devices at a time.
Wired.com reports that initially, only customers of British carriers O2 and Vodafone will be able to use the service. If and when the service is adopted by U.S. carries, it will work with GMS phones only — Virgin’s system does not work with the CDMA networks used by Sprint and Verizon. So if you’re a Sprint or Verizon customer, you’re out of luck.
Due to the FCC ban on cellphone calls from airplanes, the AeroMobile system is disabled when an aircraft is within 250 miles of the U.S. border. The FCC had proposed easing the restrictions on in-flight calling in 2007, but reconsidered, citing technical issues and complaints from the public.