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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 12:47

In-flight mobile usage: for data, it's no problem, says Telstra

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The ACMA has proposed a complex system to enable Australian airline passengers to use their cellphones and USB dongles for data and text communications when in flight, but Telstra says they should simply use the network as they do on the ground.

In December the ACMA issued a discussion paper setting out a plan under which the service would be implemented via a small cellular base station, a picocell, installed on board the aircraft along with a control unit. Communication with the outside world would be via a satellite link.

The control unit would block most of the frequencies normally used by mobile phones, preventing them from communications directly with terrestrial cellular networks and would force them to use one of a handful of specific bands to communicate with the picocell.

Support for voice communications was not envisaged because the airlines have indicated they do not wish to permit it.

Submissions to the discussion paper closed in January and the ACMA has now published the 12 submissions on its web site.

In its submission Telstra says "Contrary to the assumption made by the ACMA, it is Telstra's view that its terrestrial mobile network would support high speed data services on mobile devices operated in flight, and that use of multiple mobile phones aboard aircraft does not cause any material technical issue for underlying terrestrial mobile networks to which those mobile phones and devices are connected'¦

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"Telstra's view is that the ACMA ought to consult further and facilitate a study as to whether there are grounds to consider a change to prevailing Australian policy that prohibits mobile device use with terrestrial networks for data services aboard aircraft."

In an earlier submission to the ACMA, in 2006, Optus had raised concerns about use of mobiles from a rapidly moving aircraft saying the signal would be picked up by multiple base stations - and calls from planes could overload the network.

However according to Telstra, data services do not present the same potential problem. "Data services are typically characterised by abbreviated bursts of connectivity and are unlike the prolonged and uninterrupted carriage required for voice calls. Telstra's view is that its terrestrial network would support data services in flight without suffering significant consequences."

Telstra, the other mobile operators and other submitters were also highly critical of the ACMA's picocell plan saying it would give whoever operated it a monopoly over the service and result in users paying international roaming rates.

Telstra was also dismissive of picocells as "equipment that is based on 20th century GSM/GPRS technology that may not be suited to the current demand for wireless data services."


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