Brussels, 13 Jul 2005
Siemens and Airbus, the pan-European aircraft manufacturer, have joined forces in a common venture to develop technology that will make ordinary mobile phone calls possible for passengers in flight by 2006, the companies said on 11 July.
The German electrical and telecommunications company will supply lightweight onboard base stations for the GSM mobile network and channel selectors that will ensure mobile calls do not interfere with aircraft systems or mobile networks on the ground. Airbus will build the technology into its existing electronics systems, market it to airlines and maintain it.
The companies plan to fit a base station, linked to the terrestrial GSM network via satellite, behind the ceiling panel of a plane. The base station will receive signals from passengers' mobile phones, personal computers and organizers.
OnAir, a joint venture of Airbus and air-transport IT and telecoms specialist SITA Inc, said the complete systems would be ready for installation on Airbus A320 family aircraft flying on Western European routes by the second half of 2006. The technology is also suitable for aircraft made by Airbus rival Boeing, OnAir said.
Boeing's Connexion unit, which already offers on-board broadband Web access, also expects to start selling cell phone services to airline passengers by next year.
A report by the management and technology consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton, quoted by Flight International magazine, estimates that the European market for onboard GSM telephony will rise to more than 100 million passengers by the end of the decade - worth up to 2 billion euro annually by 2010. Questions remain over how revenues would be split between mobile telephone operators, airlines, satellite operators and aircraft manufacturers.
Research conducted last Autumn for Norway's Telenor and US-based ARINC Inc., which are marketing an in-flight GSM mobile phone service for passengers called ARINC-Telenor Mobile Connectivity, had showed that nearly half of all international business fliers would prefer to travel on airlines that allow the use of mobile phones in flight and nearly one-third of those surveyed were willing to pay between two and a half and five euros per minute for in-flight mobile phone services.
But the recent report by Booz Allen Hamilton warns that passengers would not pay large premiums to use their mobiles on board. This implies that airlines and network operators would have to standardize their offerings by forming early alliances to maximize the market's potential.
Andrew Doyle, deputy editor of Flight International, told Reuters that even if businesses would probably appreciate being able to contact their staff in the air on their normal contact numbers, 'a lot of businessmen see being on board an aircraft as their last bastion of peace and quiet.'
OnAir said aircraft crew would be able to switch the on-board mobile phone system into different modes, such as text-only, to ensure quiet times in the cabin.