FCC to Drop Airplane-Cellular Initiative
By Eric M. Zeman
March 23, 2007

Original article here ... Wireless Week newsat2direct 03/23/07 Table of Contents

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has recommended that the FCC forego its efforts to make possible the use of cellular phones aboard airplanes while aloft.

A number of factors are standing in the way of the proposal, which was first announced in late 2004. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), airplanes use faint signals from the ground to guide them through the air. The FAA maintains that cellular use aboard airplanes can cause interference with these signals and cause the airplane’s equipment to lose them in the noise. The CTIA also conducted tests last year that back up this claim.

Another issue is overcoming the technological barriers in relaying signals to the ground. Experts say that when a cell phone is used at 35,000 feet it can connect with multiple cell towers, rather than just one at a time. This could lead to network issues on the ground. Though the use of pico cells on airplanes, which would collect and send the signals earthward, can solve this issue, lack of enthusiasm from consumers and the wireless industry itself has stalled efforts to overcome the hurdles.

This news does not bode well for AirCell, which won spectrum from the FCC last year that was allocated specifically for relaying signals from the air to the ground. AirCell CEO Jack Blumenstein said that, in light of the FCC’s decision, it would pursue in-flight broadband services instead.

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