From next year in the EU, the “airplane mode” in electronic devices will become a thing of the past after the European Commission decided to allow airline passengers to use the mobile Internet and even make calls during the flight. The decision will allow airlines to provide 5G technology instead of offering historically slow free Wi-Fi or requiring passengers to pay for internet access.
Under the new rules, airline passengers will be able to stream music and video, access their apps, and make phone calls on 5G-equipped planes. The plan will “enable innovative services for people” and help European companies grow, said Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, in a statement.
“The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity,” he added.
Airlines will use special network equipment called pico-cell to route calls, texts, and data through a satellite network that connects the plane to the ground mobile network.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) first imposed rules banning cell phone use in 1991 “to protect against the threat of harmful interference from the use of cell phones over the air with land mobile networks,” the FCC wrote in a 2013 filing.
It is believed that the reason for banning the use of mobile phones on airplanes is that they can interfere with the pilot’s navigation systems. However, in 2017, Business Insider reported that the FCC imposed a ban on the use of cell phones on airplanes to “protect against radio interference to cell phone networks on the ground.”
If all airlines allowed access to cell phones at 12 kilometers in the air, numerous cell towers on the ground could pick up signals from active cell phones, which could overload ground networks, disrupting service, the media said.
Dai Whittingham, Chief Executive of the UK Flight Safety Board, told the BBC, that the use of mobile phones on board aircraft has historically been banned due to a lack of knowledge about how they might affect the aircraft.
“There was a concern they could interfere with automatic flight control systems,” Whittingham said in an interview. “What has been found with experience is the risk of interference is very small. The recommendation has always been that once you are in flight, devices should be in airplane mode.”
Concerns about obstacles to 5G remain relevant in the US, but Whittingham said that the UK and the EU do not share the same concerns.
“There is much less prospect of interference,” he said, “We have a different set of frequencies for 5G, and there are lower power settings than those that have been allowed in the US. The travelling public wants 5G. The regulators will open up that possibility, but there will be steps that will be taken to ensure that whatever they do is safe.”
According to the new decision, EU member states will have to make 5G technology available on airlines by June 30, 2023.