Emirates has become the latest airline to announce that it will be allowing travellers to use their mobile phones during flights.
The airline has signed a deal with Aeromobile to offer users mile-high GSM connectivity, enabling passengers to talk and text at prices "comparable" to roaming rates.
The first Emirates plane to bear the Aeromobile kit, a Boeing 777, could be in the air with mobile service from January, pending regulatory approval. Mile-high mobility is expected to get the thumbs-up before the end of 2006.
Only a small number of passengers will be able to use the system at once — just five calls can be handled at a time, routed via a picocell on the aircraft to a satellite and then onto ground-based mobile networks.
Emirates will be able to control the system to limit the annoyance factor of mobile addicts, and will be able to silence chatterboxes on overnight flights by only permitting texts to be sent and received. Passengers will also be told to keep their phones on silent or vibrate during flights.
A number of airlines have announced their decision to provide mobile connectivity in recent months, including Aussie airline Qantas and budget carrier Ryanair. Plans for some airlines to offer Wi-Fi connectivity came a cropper earlier this year when Boeing-owned provider Connexion shut up shop, with no replacement supplier having stepped in so far.
Aeromobile has said that GPRS will be supported shortly — good news for BlackBerry users — as well as Wi-Fi, CDMA and the UMTS variant of 3G.
According to recent research by SITA, the airline industry body, around half of all airlines will offer in-flight mobile connectivity by 2008.