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Autumn of connectivity capers lies ahead

28th October 2008 - 20:19 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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The next couple of months look set to see a surge in connectivity action, with a Ku-band trial getting under way at last in North America and a European carrier launching the biggest test to date of OnAir onboard cellphone.

Ku-band broadband provider Row 44 has been named for a try-out by Alaska Airlines in a single Boeing 737 and by Southwest Airlines in four aircraft of the same type. Alaska announced yesterday that its trial would start before the end of next month. The service will be offered free until the end of the year and charged for thereafter. The airline has said in the past that if passenger reaction is satisfactory it will offer passenger broadband throughout its fleet.    

bmi of the UK and Ireland’s Ryanair have been waiting in line for several months to be the next to trial OnAir’s GSM voice and data service, only to be delayed by regulatory hyper-caution. Now reports indicate that the British carrier will make a start in a single narrowbody airbus operating to Russia within days, with Ryanair launching on at least 10 Boeing 737s before the end of next month.

The Ryanair service is expected to be available at first only to subscribers to mobile operators O2 and 3. Another limitation, to six simultaneous voice calls, means that Ryanair’s famously noisy cabins – “If you want a quiet flight, use another airline,” says chief executive Michael O’Leary – are unlikely to get even more boisterous.   

Launch of similar services in the USA has until recently been impeded by a notion, among regulators and the public alike, that they would lead inevitably to air-rage bedlam in the cabin. But a survey recently publicised by the US Department of Transportation suggests that popular opposition could be on the wane. The survey showed that as far back as last November four out of ten US residents felt that passengers should definitely or probably be allowed to use cellphones as long as there was no interference with aircraft communications systems. Some 45 per cent said they definitely or probably should not be used, with the remaining 15 per cent saying they weren’t sure.

Unfortunately for OnAir and rival AeroMobile – which has been offering voice services on a growing number of Emirates aircraft since March without a single report of misbehaviour - the forces of lobbyism that whipped up anti-cellphone hysteria in the USA now seem to be active on the other side of the Atlantic. Holiday home rentals Website www.directholidaybookings.co.uk claims that it has been flooded with emails from customers opposing onboard cellphone ever since news of Ryanair’s plans were announced.

However, the company somewhat undermines its case by its evident failure to understand that Ryanair’s intentions have been on the public record for a couple of years, and by asserting that the trial has just started when quite clearly it has not. The state of Ryanair’s cabins surely can’t represent that much skin off the nose of a property rentals agency, so it’s hard to resist the conclusion that directholidaybookings.com is hopping aboard a handy publicity bandwagon in an effort to drum up trade in a collapsing market.   

The Shephard News Team

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