How In-flight Mobile Phone Services Work

More airlines are investigating ways that allow passengers use cell phones.
More airlines are investigating ways that allow passengers use cell phones.
Image courtesy of ONAir

You see it in the grocery store, while you're driving and even in the movies, cell phones have invaded almost all aspects of our daily lives. The only place they haven't is in in the air. Could the use of mobile phones while in flight be the final frontier?

In many countries, it's already happening. Cell phones on planes have been in use in Europe for more than a year. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission don't allow passengers to use their telephones on planes due to the phone signals possibly interfering with the plane's systems, as well as ground-based systems below.

Phones on planes have been around since the 1980s, with the introduction of the Airfone service, which was based on radio technology. The technology is still in use, but in 2006, Verizon, which acquired Airfone in 2000, announced plans to exit the in-flight phone business. The frequencies Airfone used have been auctioned to AirCell, a service provider that plans to use them to provide high-speed in-flight Internet.

While such early technology was expensive to use, new in-flight mobile phone service in other countries is more on the order of international roaming fees -- around $1 to $2 per minute, CNN reported.

Emirates Airline became the first air carrier to allow cell phones on its planes in 2007, according to CNN. The airline's system, supplied by AeroMobile, allows passengers to make and receive phone calls and text messages while at cruising altitude. Many international airlines have since followed suit.

How does in-flight phone technology work? What are some of the safety concerns with in-flight mobile phone services? Check out the next page to find out.