August 30, 2006 9:23 AM PDT

Ryanair announces in-flight mobile

Ryanair plans to allow passengers mobile access to voice and text communications on all of its flights. The airline expects to launch the service in mid-2007.

The budget airline announced on Wednesday that it will partner with OnAir, an Airbus and Sita joint in-flight communications venture, which plans to fit the entire Ryanair fleet with technology called Mobile OnAir. Initially, 50 aircraft will be equipped by mid-2007, with further installations following.

"There's clearly a trial element, but we don't have any concerns that people won't use it," Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's chief executive, said at a press briefing in London. "If it doesn't work, clearly it'll come off the aircraft."

Passengers will be charged to make and receive voice calls and SMS messages via satellite broadband links, and will be charged to use push e-mail services such as those that work with BlackBerry handhelds. The connection between the plane and ground is carried by satellite operator Inmarsat.

When asked about the cost of the service, Ryanair said that it would "mirror" international roaming charges, even on national flights. These roaming rates can vary wildly between operators and countries. Ryanair will charge operators a commission on call revenues.

"We're getting a commission from operators, but it's a relatively small commission rate," O'Leary told ZDNet UK.

The companies also need regulatory approval before they can launch the service.

"The regulatory aspect represents some risk to the schedule, but it's not a question of if but when (the plan is approved)," said O'Leary. "It's a big blockage that no one is allowed to use mobiles on aircraft. Once we have regulatory approval, Internet access will follow."

Planes will be fitted with a pico cell--an antenna that works with the global system for mobile communications (GSM) standard. The antenna will be mounted in the ceiling of the aircraft, allowing phones to connect to the satellite link. Because the antenna is close to the mobiles, they require only low power to connect, according to George Cooper, chief executive of OnAir.

"The power output is so low that it doesn't interfere with the avionics," Cooper said.

The ground network will be provided by Monaco Telecom, OnAir's telecommunications partner. Customers will be able to use their phones only above 10,000 feet, which will prevent them from connecting to domestic mobile networks instead.

Air France will be the first airline to trial OnAir's satellite-based technology early next year, followed by the U.K.'s BMI and Portugal's TAP.

Earlier this month, Boeing said it would close its money-losing high-speed broadband communications service, Connexion, which will force the company to take a charge of up to $320 million in the second half of 2006.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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2 comments

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Cell Phones in Flight
Subj: Cell Phones on Planes
Date: 5/16/2006
To:emalykhina@cmp.com

Is it really necessary to have cell phones on planes? How about a quiet area for those who cannot bear the insufferable boors who subject all of us to their cell phone stupidity?

Cell phone (ab)users are unconscious, disrespectful, discourteous and obnoxious. Public transportation and areas; doctors' offices; theaters; restaurants; checkout lines; just about everywhere. In their own dream world walking in the street, or "driving" their cars. Their business, everyone's business. Unable to bear silence or be by, or with, themselves for a moment. Totally oblivious to---and inconsiderate of---their neighbors.

Cell phones will be as ubiquitous in airplanes as they are in places where we are all held captive. These (ab)users ought to be relegated to their own soundproof cabin, compelled to suffer one another's inanities. For the entire flight.


I, and hopefully those who share these feelings, will give our business to the airlines that have the sense to ban them.

Emanuel Molho, New York, NY
Posted by emanmol (5 comments )
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If this announcement represents the start of a new trend, it could herald a rich seam of new, potentially lucrative service opportunities for both mobile operators and airline carriers. Though the prospect of passengers making voice calls on-board will be an irritation to many, email, SMS and internet browsing in the air could become very popular.

In tapping into "airline roaming", mobile operators will be extending their well established roaming plans, however it will be vital that they translate these premium services into straightforward customer offerings. Customers are not concerned by the underlying technology, they just want a high-quality service and bills that are clear and easy to understand.

In particular, operators need to keep pricing transparent so users always know how much they are spending without the risk of overspend or so-called ?bill shock? at the end of the month. Real-time charging systems and the ability for users to determine their own service-level spending controls will be an essential tool for operators looking to benefit from this new service.


Dominic Smith, marketing director, Cerillion Technologies
Posted by SharonEntwistle (1 comment )
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