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FAA May Expand In-Flight Device Usage Rules
Though Rule Changes Won't Allow Voice Calls
by Karl Bode 09:29AM Wednesday Aug 29 2012
The FAA this week announced that the agency will be taking a closer look at whether or not they should allow broader use of e-readers, smartphones and other devices while in flight. As it stands, and as most of you are aware, flyers are urged to avoid using any of these devices until the plane reaches at least 10,000 feet. According to an FAA press release this inquiry would focus solely on data and would not involve allowing in-flight voice calls.

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This fall the agency says they'll launch a study group including pilots, device makers, plane manufacturers and even flight attendants to explore the issue for a six month stretch, after which they'll report their findings to the FCC and FAA, with unspecified rule changes surfacing an unspecified amount of bureaucratically-belated time later:
quote:
The government-industry group will examine a variety of issues, including the testing methods aircraft operators use to determine which new technologies passengers can safely use aboard aircraft and when they can use them. The group will also look at the establishment of technological standards associated with the use of PEDs during any phase of flight. The group will then present its recommendations to the FAA. The group will not consider the airborne use of cell phones for voice communications during flight.
The end result may not be a total lifting of the 10,000 foot rule, but the rules may become more flexible -- such as allowing more leeway for device use during delayed flights, and lowering the altitude limit to 5,000 feet. That's because interference hasn't been the only concern; the industry has also worried that passengers need to pay closer attention during take off and landings, and that un-stowed devices could add extra projectiles to the cabin during emergencies.

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workablob

join:2004-06-09
Houston, TX
kudos:3

I don't know about you but...

my phone does not work in the sky. I tested it to and from Spokane in one of our Sabre Liners and no bars even with Verizon.

Dave
--
I may have been born yesterday. But it wasn't at night.

MovieLover76

join:2009-09-11
kudos:1

Re: I don't know about you but...

I've tried it with AT&T and T-mobile too and never got a single bar.

Boricua
Premium
join:2002-01-26
Sacramuerto
said by workablob:

my phone does not work in the sky. I tested it to and from Spokane in one of our Sabre Liners and no bars even with Verizon.

Dave

When I tried one time, my phone got hot because it was constantly looking for a tower. I would get one bar then none off and on.
--
Illegal aliens have always been a problem in the United States. Ask any Indian. Robert Orben
TheMG
Premium
join:2007-09-04
Canada
kudos:2
Reviews:
·NorthWest Tel
No surprise there.

The antennas on cell towers are not aimed up toward the sky. They are designed to provide ground coverage only.

At altitude, you are way above the antenna's radiation pattern, not to mention the fact that you're inside an aluminum tube with only small windows for whatever signal there is to get in.

Also consider that the aircraft is moving fast and in sight of a great number of cell sites, which multiplies the problems.
Crookshanks

join:2008-02-04
Binghamton, NY

4 recommendations

interference

The issue with cellular service from an airplane isn't interference with the aircraft, it's potential interference with the reverse link on the cellular network. Once at altitude, your mobile will have a clear line of sight to dozens of base stations. Transmissions from it will be heard by each of those base stations, not just the one you happen to be connected to. The cellular network was not designed to cope with this, mobiles are only supposed to be heard by a handful of stations at a time. Being heard by dozens of stations will lower the signal to noise ratio for reverse-link transmissions from other customers, with the end result of degraded service for them.

This is also an issue with the forward link, though that will only degrade service for you, not others. Your mobile will hear dozens of different base stations at the same time, all transmitting on the same frequency. This will significantly lower the signal to noise ratio of the transmission intended for your mobile and make it that much harder to maintain a connection to the network.

The way to fix this is with picocells installed in the aircraft itself. The mobiles would then transmit at a reduced power level that wouldn't cause issues with the macro network on the ground. The forward link works better too, the picocell is much closer and louder than the stations on the ground, so there's no worries about picking out the signal meant for your phone.

The major downside to the picocell concept (other than the self-important jackass next to you screaming into his phone) is you can bet money that the airlines will rake you over the coals for the privilege of using it. Another potential issue is that the airplane would need a minimum of two base stations to cover the various cellular standards, or the airline has to select a 'winner' and alienate half of the people on the aircraft. My bet would be on the latter, they'd sign an exclusive agreement with Verizon or AT&T, customers on a competing standard are SOL, and those on the same standard but with a different carrier get bent over for roaming charges.

workablob

join:2004-06-09
Houston, TX
kudos:3

Re: interference

Crookshanks, that is the most informative post I have read in some time.

Thank You

Dave
--
I may have been born yesterday. But it wasn't at night.

Twaddle

@sbcglobal.net
Thanks for the insight into cell phone functionality. Personally, I really hope the FAA determines no voice on planes. It's bad enough as it is on airplanes with snoring screaming kids etc.. I can't imagine the pain of sitting next to some "Chattie Cathie" or some self-important self-absorbed "person" talking so loud that everyone around him/her can hear(painfully).

battleop

join:2005-09-28
00000
I've made lots of VoIP calls while flying on Delta. Even with 500ms ping times it works as long as it's a steady 500ms. It seems like I am always in the air during a conference call. There is just too much background noise to make a call without pissing off other passengers. So I just dial in to listen to the call and IM any comments I have to someone else who is on the call.
--
I do not, have not, and will not work for AT&T/Comcast/Verizon/Charter or similar sized company.

Camelot One
Premium,MVM
join:2001-11-21
Greenwood, IN
kudos:1

Re: interference

The problem with this idea is that once the FAA actually owns up to the fact that cellphones aren't going to crash airplanes, the argument for them having the power to prevent calls gets rather difficult. It is one thing to say something is banned for safety reasons, even if it is based on junk science, but openly banning something just to prevent the annoyance of other passengers falls more on the airlines than a government body. And protecting the cell network should fall to the FCC, not the FAA.

I say that despite fully supporting a ban on voice calls on planes.
ak3883

join:2005-08-20
Portsmouth, RI

Re: interference

I thought I read elsewhere that the reason they aren't studying the voice call ban is that falls under the FCC, not the FAA just like you suggest.
Kearnstd
Space Elf
Premium
join:2002-01-22
Mullica Hill, NJ
kudos:1
said by battleop:

I've made lots of VoIP calls while flying on Delta. Even with 500ms ping times it works as long as it's a steady 500ms. It seems like I am always in the air during a conference call. There is just too much background noise to make a call without pissing off other passengers. So I just dial in to listen to the call and IM any comments I have to someone else who is on the call.

I can imagine also the other end of the call would not want to hear the loud drone of the jet engines. And the other passengers along with whatever crap is the in flight movie or the kids if its not a early morning business flight.
--
[65 Arcanist]Filan(High Elf) Zone: Broadband Reports

MovieLover76

join:2009-09-11
kudos:1
Very informative, personally I think the should stick with Wifi available on the plane, every smartphone,tablet and laptop has it, no need to support multiple standards and that takes care of data, people shouldn't be allowed to make calls while in the air it's just obnoxious.

Morac
Cat god

join:2001-08-30
Riverside, NJ
kudos:1
Reviews:
·Comcast
While the FCC may care about potential interference to the cell network, I doubt the FAA would care about that. They care about the safety of planes. That's why they also ban receive only devices such as radios, portable TVs, etc.
--
The Comcast Disney Avatar has been retired.

NickD
Premium
join:2000-11-17
Princeton Junction, NJ
Reviews:
·Comcast

Net neutrality

The net neutrality laws won't allow them to block VoIP. Even if they do block VoIP, a VPN can easily get around it. They won't block VPNs because business travelers won't use the service if VPNs are blocked.
The only thing they can do to make it hard is to increase the latency or periodically disconnect the connection for a second every 10 minutes. Both of those artificially degrade the service.

battleop

join:2005-09-28
00000

Re: Net neutrality

'VPN can easily get around it"

That's how I get around it. I had trouble getting it to work over SIP without a VPN. Skinny seems to work ok with or without a VPN.
--
I do not, have not, and will not work for AT&T/Comcast/Verizon/Charter or similar sized company.

SterlingJ85

join:2000-11-19
Voorhees, NJ
Do you mean with current in-flight Wi-Fi from Row44, and Aircell/GoGo? They specifically block a ton of video streaming (I have had luck with Shoutcast streaming working great), and VoIP, but a simple PPTP/IPSec/SSL VPN will get around it. However, jitter can kill VoIP depending on how loaded their cells are at the time.
--
-Sterling

VOIP4Voice

@k12.ca.us

Just use Data for Voice calls

How hard would that be and now people are chatting up a storm with VOIP clients...

Yikes, no more plane trips for me!


moldypickle

join:2009-01-04
Haughton, LA
kudos:2

Re: Just use Data for Voice calls

Hell, I can hardly hear my headset music, let alone carry on a conversation.

Maybe it's just that I'm always stuck in the small jets, lol
rgoltsch
Premium
join:2001-03-04
Caldwell, NJ

Tablets and E-Readers

More and more people are traveling with Kindles, Nooks and iPads instead of books, magazines and newspapers. I think they are focusing more on electronic devices such as e-readers and tablets. I travel a great deal for business, and nothing is more annoying than getting to a good point in a movie, book, magazine on my iPad and having to shut it down because the plane is below 10,000'.

I then have to stare at the back of the head of the person in front of me, or read the silly airmall catalog until we land 30 minutes later.