EU approves in-flight 3G and 4G data

Passengers will be able to use 3G and 4G connections, but will be charged roaming fees

Nicole Kobie
15 Nov 2013

Air passengers will be allowed to use their own 3G and 4G connections while in flight, the EU has revealed.

The European Commission had previously allowed 2G use in aircraft above 3,000 meters, and is now approving 3G and 4G as well.

It's still up to airlines to decide if passengers will be able to connect, however. "This EU decision creates the possibility for airlines – rather than a right for passengers – to allow use of smartphones and tablets during flights," the EU said.

First, however, airlines will have to equip their planes with mobile communication on-board aircraft (MCA) systems that support 3G and 4G spectrum, the EU noted. Mobile devices will then be able to connect to an antenna on the plane, before traffic is transferred to ground networks.

Once in place, users will be able to send text messages and use mobile data, but will be charged roaming costs.

The EU's approval is only for in-flight internet services, not for making voice calls. The Commission has noted that "industry surveys indicate SMS and email are of greater interest to passengers than voice".

The ruling follows moves by the US Federal Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to allow passengers to use electronic devices during takeoff and landing as well as when in the air.

"EASA recognises the wide proliferation of personal electronic devices and the wish of the travelling public to use them everywhere," the European agency said

Britain's Civil Aviation Authority has yet to issue guidance, but has said it will likely follow the lead of the FAA.

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