Qualcomm, Connexion test in-flight wireless service

Qualcomm and Connexion test pico cell technology for in-flight mobile phone communications.

Qualcomm and The Boeing Co.'s Connexion have joined forces to test in-flight mobile phone communications in a specially equipped Boeing 737-400 aircraft, the companies said Monday.

Connexion, which already provides a wireless Internet service to airline passengers with laptops, hopes to offer them a mobile phone service as soon as regulators in the US give the green light.

Qualcomm and Connexion have already conducted a series of tests using both CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technologies over an on-board network with infrastructure and integration support from UTStarcom.

The tests involve using a "pico cell," or small mobile base station, that is installed in the plane and connected by an air-to-ground satellite link.

Last month, Boeing's archrival Airbus reached an agreement with Siemens to deliver a similar lightweight GSM pico cell. The system will be installed and tested in an Airbus A320 airplane.

Airbus and IT networking company Sita are co-founders of the joint venture OnAir, which aims to provide communication services to airborne customers. The joint venture expects to begin offering service in Europe in the second half of this year.

In the US, however, regulators have yet to approve in-flight mobile communications.

In May, officials from the US Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation warned of potential dangers, including the use of mobile phones to trigger a bomb smuggled on board.

Some flight attendants have also warned that allowing mobile phones to be used on planes could make their jobs harder during an emergency and also lead to further cases of air rage by passengers who don't want to be disturbed.

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