It turns out that when the airlines said you couldn't make cell phone calls in the air, they weren't just trying to make money off those seatback phones. The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said in a study released last week that airlines should continue their ban on cell phone calls in flight because there really is a danger of interference with navigation and communication equipment. Those big thinkers must hate that, and always wanting to talk to someone about their new ideas.
The problem is not that there's a little thing in your hand beeping and making noise. In fact, some airlines now specifically allow passengers to use phones for anything that doesn't require sending or receiving signals. That way, the datebooks, games and spy cameras in the latest phones don't have to go to waste while you're traveling. No, the problem is the signals getting sent over mobile phone networks, which happen to interfere with other signals to and from the cockpit in some cases, according to the CAA.
Yet today's well-equipped airliner isn't completely cut off. In addition to those seatback phones, which may as well be air-sickness bags for how often they get used, there are now IEEE 802.11b wireless LANs on some planes. Passengers share the networks through access points on board, which in turn are linked to antennas that exchange data with satellites connected to an IP (Internet Protocol) network on the ground.
You can already make a mobile phone call over a wireless LAN in some offices; mobile phones are in the works now that can communicate over either 802.11b or a traditional cell network. So, why not take that on the plane and keep making calls to your heart's content?
Cisco Systems Inc. is one of the latest companies to come out with a mobile wireless LAN phone. They're talking to cell phone companies now about possibly adding in that piece. The beauty of a phone like that would be that an executive who travels frequently could use the same phone both around the corporate campus and outside, according to Cisco's Charlie Giancarlo, senior vice president and general manager of switching, voice and carrier systems. While the user was in the office, extensions and other standard features would work and cell phone charges wouldn't apply.
What about using on an airliner's wireless LAN?
They hadn't thought about that, Charlie said.
See what I mean? A whole valley full of people thinking, and they need reporters to come up with the killer app.