The European Commission opens the door for European airlines to offer 5G connectivity on board organization announced, by allocating a certain spectrum for onboard 5G and for “earlier generations of mobile technology”. Passengers will connect to an onboard pico-cell base station, which then connects to ground networks via satellite. Calling, texting and data are all expected to be supported.
“5G will enable innovative services for people and growth opportunities for European companies,” said EU Commissioner Thierry Breton. “The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to the possibilities offered by high-speed, high-capacity connectivity.” The Commission’s announcement gives no details on exactly when 5G services could become available to flyers.
“The sky is no longer a limit”
While passengers have traditionally been told to put their devices in “Airplane Mode” while onboard flights, the rules have relaxed in recent years. In 2014 the The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has updated its guidelines to say that airlines should not require their passengers to use the mode for safety. Airplane mode typically limits cellular connectivity, but often still allows other wireless technology such as WiFi and Bluetooth.
Inflight 5G is not expected to cause any safety issues as it uses different frequencies than those used for cockpit communications, the International Air Transport Association tells The Telegraph. Phones use the 5GHz spectrum and above, while airplanes themselves use the 4.2-4.4GHz range for their connectivity.
In the US, the relationship between 5G and the airline industry is more fraught, with airlines raising concerns earlier this year that the rollout of new 5G spectrum near airports could disrupt sensitive onboard equipment. The rollout of the spectrum is expected to take place in the middle of next year, giving airlines time to retrofit their aircraft with equipment that is not sensitive to the frequencies used. Bloomberg notes that in 2020 the FCC scrapped plans to enable inflight cellular connectivity due to opposition on “safety and national security grounds”.