Prepare for in-flight cell service and extended phone calls: New mobile connectivity plan

Uber has announced it is partnering with Panasonic Avionics Corp. to roll out an in-flight network across commercial jets by 2022. Just as the wireless tablet service that Uber launched on a small number of Boeing 737s is available on the longer-range Airbus A350 and A330s, the in-flight Wi-Fi service could end up being a competitor to the 3G and 4G mobile connection available on planes today.

The proposal has its share of advocates who believe that flying could soon feel a lot more like carrying around your own personal space on a set of wires. A company called 2-Tone predicts that after 2022, when airlines will be able to combine cellular and Wi-Fi on a single device, they will be able to end the term “flight” altogether.

“Think about it. You’re sitting on an airplane, someone has a cell phone conversation, or the flight attendant intervenes and asks, ‘Can you keep that to yourself?’” said Bruce Sachs, founder of startup electronic etiquette service 2-Tone, which has partnered with Facebook to set up official guidelines on on-board protocol. “The use of your cell phone — no one has any control over it. You can’t walk away. It becomes part of the visual experience.”

But in-flight mobile connectivity would come with a few difficulties. One of the biggest will be creating a Wi-Fi network on the ground that can achieve the same sort of broad coverage that is available in a public park today. In order to connect to the cellular network, which requires a high-tech cell tower, the new network will need to make use of plenty of thousands of miles of connecting land.

“You’ll have to have thousands of cell towers across the country — hundreds of them for every single day of the year,” said Shuhei Yoshida, Panasonic’s president. “So a mobile connection really matters only for a few brief hours at the end of a long flight.”

Sachs and Yoshida hope that airlines will soon be able to cut their calls down to about 30-40 seconds a day. That might seem trivial, but it has the potential to cut costs and alleviate the stress that comes from flying on long international flights with no mobile signal.

“It’s always attractive for people to be flying free for a few minutes, but they’re not going to do it if they’re next to an alien,” Sachs said. “We would much rather have people do that with their device and their laptop and watch videos while someone is talking to them and it isn’t disruptive.”

Is this the beginning of the end of the phrase “flight” altogether?

Read the full story at Quartz.


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