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Calls and 5G streaming available on flights within European Union

TRAVEL NEWS – December 7, 2022: Airline passengers in the European Union (EU) will soon be able to use their phone optimally while flying thanks to 5G technology on board. Passengers would also no longer be required to put their phones on airplane mode. The new 5G technology on board would make it possible for passengers to call or stream during a flight.

The European Commission on 5G and flying

The European Commission ruled that airlines may also offer 5G technology on board aircraft in addition to slower mobile data. While the details of how this will be implemented are still unclear, it could mean passengers are no longer required to put their phones on airplane mode. People can then use their phones during the flight, both for calls and streaming.

5G in aircraft on flights in Europe (EU)
5G in aircraft on flights in Europe (EU)

Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, said the plan would: “Enable innovative services for people” and European help businesses grow. “The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to the possibilities offered by high-speed, high-capacity connectivity,” he said.

The deadline for member states to make the 5G frequency bands available for aircraft is June 30, 2023.

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The end of airplane mode?

Since 2008, the European Commission has reserved certain frequency bands for aircraft, allowing some services to provide mid-air internet access. However, this service has historically been slow, as it relied on equipment to connect people between the plane and the ground via satellite.

The new system will be able to take advantage of the much faster download speeds of 5G, which can exceed 100 Mbps according to mobile network EE. A movie is downloaded in just a few minutes.

No malfunction

Dai Whittingham, chief executive of the UK Flight Safety Committee, told the BBC that airplane mode was historically important due to a lack of knowledge about how mobile devices affect aircraft. “There was concern that they could interfere with the automatic operating systems,” he said. “Experience has shown that the chance of a malfunction is very small. The recommendation has always been that once you're in the air, devices should be in airplane mode.”

5G in aircraft on flights in Europe (EU)
5G in aircraft on flights in Europe (EU)

There is concern in the USA that 5G frequencies can disrupt flights and possibly even lead to erroneous altitude measurements. Mr Whittingham said this is not a problem in the UK and the EU. “There is much less chance of interference,” he said, “we have a different set of frequencies for 5G and there are lower power settings than those allowed in the US.

“The traveling public wants 5G. The regulators will open up that possibility, but steps will be taken to make sure everything they do is safe.”

Glenn Bradley, Head of Flight Operations at the UK Civil Aviation Authority - the regulatory body responsible for aircraft safety in the UK - said using mobile phones to make calls is prohibited on UK airlines unless the aircraft is " equipped with an approved mobile phone operating system”.

Support innovation

“We understand that plans to enable 5G flight on board will operate in the higher frequency bands and will therefore not interfere with aircraft systems,” he said. “We stand ready to work with the industry to support the delivery of this innovation.”

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Source: BBC News

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