Telstra calls for mobiles in-flight

Telstra calls for mobiles in-flight

Summary: Advances in aviation technology should mean that the hassle of being forced to switch off your phone during a flight should become a thing of the past, according to Telstra's spectrum policy group manager Brian Miller.


Advances in aviation technology should mean that the hassle of being forced to switch off your phone during a flight should become a thing of the past, according to Telstra's spectrum policy group manager Brian Miller.


(Concord cockpit image by Marko Karppinen, CC2.0)

"The current restraints on the use of phones on aircraft do seem to be overly conservative, and I know Telstra is not aware of any evidence pointing to interference between mobile phones and aircraft electronic systems," Miller told the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)'s RadComms conference in Sydney this afternoon.

"The avionic systems of today are designed to be very robust and withstand very high electromagnetic field and densities, including those generated by static build-up and direct lightning strikes, which are ... in orders of magnitude, greater than those generated by mobile phones," he said.

"There's a large travelling business population ... that could be a whole lot more productive if this was possible," he added."

In July last year, the ACMA decided to implement licensing arrangements that would allow airlines to deploy technology on the aircraft such as picocells that would allow passengers to connect and make phone calls using their own mobile phones.

It is understood, however, that no Australian airline has yet made the service available to the public.

ACMA's general manager of communications infrastructure, Maureen Cahill, had earlier told the conference that the current regulatory regime for spectrum was very inflexible, and as a result it was not easy to bend the rules to allow mobile phone usage on aircraft.

"In the end, to enable this service to be provided to people [who] want to take it, the proponent [that wanted to offer the service] had to have, in place, third-party authorisation in Australia with three spectrum licensees. Part of its base station concept was apparatus licensed. Parts of handsets and all the rest of it had to be classed licensed," she said.

"We had to make significant changes to regulatory determinations to enable what this day and age you might have through a simple approach."

Miller said that all of this complexity could be avoided if mobile phone customers could just connect straight down to their existing telco network from the aircraft.

"We note that services are being introduced ... which involve phones connecting to a picocell on the aircraft along with a wide-band jamming transmitter," he said. "So why can't those phones also be permitted to connect to a terrestrial network?

"I suggest that a simpler way of doing this 'mobile phones in aircraft' thing might be to simply allow terrestrial access," he said.

Hundreds of megahertz required in the future

Miller also called on the ACMA to get on with the upcoming auction of the 700MHz and 2.5GHz spectrum bands as part of the digital dividend, in order to meet demand for spectrum for mobile broadband services.

"From our perspective, it is essential that the ACMA gets on with the clearance and allocation of the 700MHz band and also the 2.5GHz band to meet the medium term demand for mobile broadband capacity. We can't afford to have any more slippages in the published timetable," he said.

While the ACMA has estimated that Australia will need 300MHz of additional spectrum in order to meet demand by 2020, Miller said that the International Telecommunications Union is looking at an additional 700MHz, while the United States is seeking an additional 500MHz. Miller said that Telstra has yet to determine how much it thought would be required.

"We're still thinking about the quantity of mobile broadband spectrum that is required beyond those two bands. The jury is still out on what is required, but I think it's fair to say that we will need to find hundreds of additional megahertz and primarily below 5GHz as well."

Topics: Telcos, Government AU, Travel Tech, Telstra


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • does anybody still bother with turning their phones off?
    thought that was an urban myth perpetuated by flight attendants.

    guy next to me was receiving sms over tweed heads on my last BNE-SYD flight
    • Actually i read an aricle recently where the manufacturers of avionic equipment were able to cause anomolies in their readings with mobile phone interfernce. I'm still looking for the article, but in the meantime

      And really, is it worth the risk of dying just so you can have some rude loud person speaking next to you on their phone? Personally i'd hate the day people could take calls while i'm stuck next to them.
  • The whole 'you can't use your mobile because it will cause us to spear into the ground' is rubbish. The reason goes way back to the introduction of mobile phones. The problem the phone companies faced was due to the way the mobile system keeps track of you when you move. For example, as you travel along the highway, you get 'handovered' to the next tower and so on. The system is designed so that you can generally only see a couple of towers and you travel relatively slowly while doing it. No imagine a couple of hundred people in a plane, at 30 thou. They can see maybe twenty towers. The system could not handle that much activity so they connived with the airlines to getting them banned. Also, it was in the airlines interest to go along with it. In the most, people in airlines are quiet. They are controlled (even though they are fed bad food and treated badly...). They are happy little vegemites. No imagine a few passengers who use their phones. They become loud, they might even become agitated due to those calls. And finally, this ban only applies to commercial aircraft. You can use them on a private plane, you can (maybe) use them on a military plane etc. Oops almost forgot. Maybe those bad guys on 9/11 didn't crash them planes into the Twin Towers. It was those passengers ringing their loved ones. Silly me.