Recently, the European Commission allowed airlines to install 5G-enabled equipment on planes. This means that in flight it will be possible to talk on the phone, exchange SMS messages and access the Internet at very high speed. The media began to write that a new era is coming and soon passengers will not have to turn off their phones before the plane takes off. However, according to experts, one has nothing to do with the other.
In fact, the compact picocell base stations that some aircraft are equipped with make it possible to send phone calls and other data via a satellite network to mobile networks on the ground. For this, back in 2008, the EU reserved certain frequencies for mobile communications in aircraft. But in this case, we’re just talking about replacing existing LTE networks with 5G. The main difference is that 5G technology has a higher data transfer rate, thanks to a larger spectrum of frequencies used by the network and more advanced signal transmission technologies. As for direct communication on board an airplane, in Russia, as in other parts of the world, it also exists, and for a long time.
In fact, one of the Russian mobile operators has been offering an unlimited tariff for using the Internet for many years. According to the information on the cellular company’s website, the network is available only after scaling and the service costs much more than normal roaming. But the service will work only on aircraft with access to communication services, that is, equipped with picocells. This is rare for our carriers.
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So should you turn off your phone on a plane?
There is a rule that mobile devices must be turned off during takeoff and landing. It is because at this time the phones start to search for cell phones. After taking off from the ground, the plane moves very quickly, accelerating to a speed of 300-400 km / h, but at the same time it is still not so far from the cell towers. In order not to lose connection, our mobile devices increase the signal strength. This creates strong electromagnetic radiation that could theoretically be dangerous to aircraft systems. Although there is no evidence of this today, as well as evidence of real damage. But on the other hand, this measure allows you to protect phones from rapid battery discharge and overheating. But some old models of smartphones in such a situation can even explode. Therefore, it is necessary to turn off the phones during takeoff and landing not only for safety reasons, it is also useful.
Alexander Sivolobov, Deputy Director of the NTI Competence Center for Wireless Communications and Internet of Things based at Skoltech:
10 years ago, one of the largest telecommunications operators in Russia implemented a project to launch mobile communications on the plane of one of the Russian airlines. At that time, the project configuration was built on the basis of a foreign satellite operator and third-generation (3G) mobile communication picocells. The project was successfully developed, agreed, implemented and launched. But it was never scaled up due to the high cost of the entire solution, so we had very few boards with mobile communications, a few. However, there are no serious obstacles to repeating the project, and it can be implemented using 4G or 5G technologies. If any airline takes a serious interest in this, gets the support of the Federal Air Transport Agency and the Ministry of Digital Development, then everything can be resolved. The main Russian problem is satellite communications, so the participation of Roskosmos units will still be required. We have systems in place, but they tend to be very expensive and not powerful enough to support an entire aircraft. However, there have been such projects in Russia, and I am sure there will be more when there is time, effort and resources for 5G picocells.