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back to article Virgin straps on phone masts for the flying upper classes

Flyers heading to New York on Virgin Atlantic will be able to make calls from the plane, thanks to a mobile mobile base station and a satellite uplink, but expect to pay through the nose for a service which hasn't proved popular elsewhere. Only customers of O2 and Vodafone will be able to connect at all, and those will be billed …

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Sigh

The equipment isn't now, nor has ever been, the problem.

The problem is the cost to the end-user. Just what are you intending to charge me for it? Because if it's expensive, I'll wait until I get off the plane. And most people run scared of roaming anyway - there's a reason for that that's nothing to do with worrying about using foreign airwaves or interfering with the plane, or the slight delay in voice traffic. It's simply the cost.

So every time you equip a plane, you're expecting people to fund its installation by using it and making you a proportion of profit after you've connected via a satellite and talked to a (now foreign) mobile operator to terminate your calls. And then you price it so extortionately that the only reason people REALLY turn their phones off on a plane is because they're scared they'll hit roaming charges while they're not looking.

Seriously, people. Sod all the fancy stuff. Let me send texts and browse the web. You can cache that locally, send it at your own leisure, don't care about slight interruptions, can route via the cheapest method transparently (wireless / 3G while on the ground, switch to satellite once high enough in the air) and not bother me with people shouting "HELLO!" down the phone while I'm trying to sleep. Then you can price it more sensibly and shock, horror, people might start to use it. While things are still priced in pounds per megabyte, nobody is going to EVER touch the service except by accident or curiosity.

Nothing else, absolutely nothing else, matters but the cost to the end-user. If you charge me 5p extra to send a text message that you then relay over some hugely-slow but viable link back to a base in the UK that then sends the text message onwards from there, that would be useful. If you let me have available-but-slow wifi, that's worth a couple of quid per flight, maybe, if I need it. Anything else and no matter how much a captive audience you have, nobody will touch it. Real-time voice just isn't necessary - we're only amusing ourselves until the plane lands when we THEN do all the important phone calls anyway. Give us the most basic of data services at a *decent* price and you'd have an audience.

Mobile networks need to realise that mass volume of customers * a couple of pence profit is infinitely better than no customers * huge wads of profit each. This applies to roaming, data, data roaming, and airplane use. Drop your prices, see a rise in profits. Increase the prices to these stupid amounts, see a continued absence of customers afraid to even turn their phones ON abroad and instead buying a foreign SIM, thus netting you 0p profit.

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Solution?

So, a solution to the problem of phones accidentally left switched on on the plane is to keep a base-station there, which will accept connection from phones on the plane but will not make/receive any calls because it will not actually be connected to anything else (giving "network busy" response or similar)?

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Re: Solution?

No, make them all ring and ring with an automated message of "Turn off your phone you annoying w*nker!"

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Re: Solution?

Until the base station fails or is unintentionally switched off in flight.

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Pint

"...which means a dish..."

Pendantic On

If they're using Inmarsat SBB (as they should), then that's L-band. It doesn't use a "dish" antenna for this application. Inmarsat might use a mechanical end-fire helical antenna, or a quad array of same. There are other antenna options, but a physically pratical parabolic reflector ("dish") isn't typically used for aircraft - too big.

On the other hand, if they're using one of the k- or ka-band systems, then, yes, dish. But those systems have their pros and cons compared to Inmarsat.

There's also Iridium Openport Aero, but probably not as useful as the others.

Pedantic Off.

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Boffin

Re: "...which means a dish..."

I seem to have your icon. Swap?

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Re: "...which means a dish..."

Shouldn't that be "Pedantry On" ....?

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Thumb Down

If the person sitting next to me....

Spends even a small part of the time on the phone, they'll find thenselves making their calls from OUTSIDE the plane

Oh hang on, only "Vice Presidents in charge of Sales" will be able to justify the calls on their expenses and they'll be up the front of the plane, so they won't bother me in cattle class.

RIP the last sanctuary from the mobile phone

Perhaps they'll have a phone section of the plane for the pariahs, a bit like the old smoking section?

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Alert

Re: If the person sitting next to me....

Perhaps they'll have a phone section of the plane for the pariahs, a bit like the old smoking section?

I wish they did that on surface public transport. Instead of having one quiet coach on a long train if you're lucky, talking on the phone should be banned on all trains, trams, & buses, except for one tiny area.

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Re: If the person sitting next to me....

You're far too nice.

If I'm there, they'll need to have packed on the plane obstetric forceps to remove the said telephonic device from the caller's sinuses...or any other orifice I find...

Although, maybe I should be more tolerant. And make them sit next to the crying baby.

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How did the inflight phones (at seats in first class; outside the toilets for the plebs) work?

BA had these in 2001 and probably for a good bit before?

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Back in the 90s, many US domestic flights had wired phones built into the armrests in all classes. I never saw them getting much use (except for the occasional 'guess where I'm calling from').

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FAIL

I was recently on a plane that still had those seat-back phones with the credit card slot. IIRC, the cost was in the high units of dollars ($5<cost<$10) per minute. Pretty much like international roaming rates. I never (well, maybe once) saw them being used either.

I wonder if the company that installed all those handets on all those planes even broke even? My guess would be "no".

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I once used one of those back before mobiles.

I managed to get an operator somehow without putting in the credit card, then I get her to put the call on my ATT calling card (remember those!) without her knowing I was on a plane - then I couldn't think of anyone to call !

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Black Helicopters

Plane phones

Only time I've seen one being used was in Die Hard 2.

Icon: "I'm not playing chicken with a two hundred ton plane!"

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Anonymous Coward

The kit I worked on was wired ISDN internally, ground radio and satellite links (when not over land) externally. External links haven't changed much although the satellite technology may have been updated. They were also very expensive to use, so that hasn't changed either.

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TRT
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Surely it'll need to Roam?

I mean, does it advertise itself as a roaming network able to accept all UK carriers? Won't that mean a SIM upgrade? How will this work?

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Why only O2 & Vodafone?

Virgin have their own virtual mobile service (T-Mobile I believe) and some sort of agreement with Orange, so why only O2 & Vodafone on Virgin aircraft?

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Re: Why only O2 & Vodafone?

Also, why not discount it for Virgin Mobile customers? There aren't that many of them, after all.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why only O2 & Vodafone?

Virgin Mobile aren't part of the Branson empire any more. They were sold way back to NTL, now Virgin Media (which isn't Branson either). He makes money by renting out the brand name - nice work.

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Anonymous Coward

So this means...

That using a phone, or leaving it on inside a plane is perfectly safe, right?

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Re: So this means...

No it doesn't. RTFA again.

Is this the sort of attention deficit that leaves some passengers apparently unable to recall the explicit instruction to switch off their darling phones, even though it was broadcast over the tannoy only moments previously?

-A.

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Stop

Re: So this means...

Probably. Except during that extremely tricky phase of the flight, where the pilot is trying to avoid other planes, line up with the glideslope while fighting the up-, down- and side-drafts and gently ease the aircraft onto the runway, thereby saving you all from a nasty death.

I'll be turning all my stuff off as requested. No sense in tempting fate.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm glad most carriers have dropped it.

I REALLY don't want to hear drivvel about others "lives", sad pathetic people.

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BA

It's a bit cheeky calling themselves the "first British airline" to do it. For one thing, as others pointed out, planes have had phones on them for years (since the early 90s I think). For another, BA has had this tech installed for a while on their City Airport-JFK flight but disable the voice part of it so its data-only (and they don't provide Wifi data which is a bit weird). Apart from anything else there is so much background noise on a plane I can't imagine that using a phone would be particularly great anyway so seems quite sensible to me.

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Happy

No worries mate.

It's a satellite link - which means a round trip delay of about 500ms in the call - which if I remember correctly from the 70's when most of my transatlantic calls were via satellite links - is just long enough to make a long conversation miserable. And that's before you have a couple of drinks....

I did try the Lufthansa satellite data link when they were running that and while it was acceptable for browsing, checking your mail via IMAP was so slow (I assume due to the link delay) that it was mostly unusable.

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Pint

Round trip delay of 500ms

I think it's worse these days. Just the round trip time-of-flight for geostationary satellites is over half a second. Add in some voice digitization, encoding, compression, awaiting your time slot, etc. probably brings it up within sight of a full second. Iridium is low Earth orbit and is thus faster, but with Morse code like data rates of 2400 bits per second (pre OpenPort) it's tedious.

Will someone puhleeze launch a fleet of MEO birds to make worldwide broadband Comms into a 'solved' problem (similar to what GPS did for navigation) - puhleeze? This is so overdue.

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Boffin

Flew Virgin to Orlando last February, and the seat-pocket magazine blurb had all sorts of stuff in there about now being able to use mobiles in-flight etc. It was a nice shiny new plane, with most of the stuff "to be introduced in 1st class" already in and in cattle class too where we flew (it had the touch-screen entertainment on demand system for example - was most impressed with that).

I must admit my first thought on seeing the stuff about using mobiles was "oh god, not 8 hours of inescapable chatter" although thankfully it seems that the reality of actually being able to do it was lacking at the time, despite what the blurb implied.

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