Airbus tests in-flight mobile phones

European plane maker Airbus has successfully completed the first in-flight trial of mobile phones and infrastructure equipment based on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology, the company said Wednesday.

The trial, which took place aboard an Airbus A320 flight-test plane, culminated a two-year research European Commission-supported project aimed at testing wireless technology for in-flight mobile phone and computing services.

Airbus, which was tight-lipped about the trial previous to its launch, expects to have the technology installed in its aircraft from 2006 onward. A key objective is to provide service at affordable prices, the company said.

Substantial demand for in-flight mobile phone service exists, according to a survey by the Norwegian phone company Telenor Satellite Services and Arinc conducted at the London Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Almost half of the 1,200 business and leisure travelers interviewed for the survey said they would like mobile phone access in flight.

The Airbus tests involved communications to and from several different types of GSM mobile phones on board to mobile and fixed telephones on the ground, and to another mobile phone onboard, Airbus said. Signals from the mobile phones were received by an onboard base station, then transferred to an onboard server that forwarded them through the Globalstar Telecommunications Ltd. satellite communications network to the ground and finally routed to ground-based phone networks.

Also tested were several wireless computing services, such as 3G (third-generation) based on WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiplex Access) technology, WLAN (wireless LAN) using the Wi-Fi standard 802.11 and short-range Bluetooth.

Tested services included GSM telephony, Web browsing, e-mail and connectivity to a VPN (virtual private network). An onboard intranet was demonstrated as were PDAs (personal digital assistants) for crew use.

The Wireless Cabin project is being led by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Partners include Inmarsat, Siemens and Telefonaktiebolaget Ericsson.

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John Blau

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