CES panel to highlight flight-mode problems
A potential built-in drag on the development of air-to-ground services in the USA will be one of the topics raised by the connectivity panel at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas tomorrow.
Supporting the Inflight Online-moderated panel will be Eric Lemond of Aircell, provider of the Gogo broadband service now operational aboard aircraft of American Airlines, Delta and Virgin America, and selected by Air Canada. Director of product and platform management for the Colorado-headquartered company, Lemond points to a problem with new wireless devices that could hamper their use with WiFi-based cabin networks.
He’s concerned about the way “flight mode” is implemented in the economy-friendly ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs) and smartphones now entering the market. Usually incorporating both cellular and WiFi, these devices, like ordinary cellphones, have a flight mode allowing most of their applications to go on working while disabling their ability to transmit on cellular frequencies. This complies with US Federal Communications Commission rules designed to prevent inadvertent interference with the ground cellular networks.
“WiFi is not subject to this restriction and can be used in flight as long as it is working with an airline and FAA-certificated service like Gogo,” says Lemond. “The problem arises when the device manufacturer implements a flight mode that shuts off both the cellular and the WiFi radios, allowing no possibility of using WiFi.”
Early operational experience with Gogo is showing a significantly higher than expected amount of usage from passengers with smartphones, according to Lemond. “It would benefit manufacturers to set up these devices from the start so that they are compatible,” he says. “Currently the manufacturers are recognising the issue and making the change retrospectively, but this requires them to do extra work that could have been avoided.”