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The end of flight mode is in sight across Europe

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Although there are airlines that offer in-flight Wi-Fi at the moment, and others who advertise the facility but then tell you it´s not available when you are on the plane, it is only a matter of time before our loyal techno companion can provide connectivity throughout the flight, thanks to the development of new technology, specifically developments in the development of 5G, or 5th generation.

Very soon, planes will stop being one of the last redoubts without phone calls or coverage. Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, has been in charge of confirming this: “The sky is no longer the limit,” he said in a statement. And it is that, after several years of studies, the European Commission has already considered it safe to be able to designate certain 5G telephony frequencies that will allow full connectivity during flights. It will be through the so-called picocells, a special team that will triangulate through a network of satellites between the aircraft and the land mobile network. This will allow the passengers and crew of an airplane to act with their devices as on the ground, receiving and making calls, sending text messages or connecting to the data network, so you can update your socials, check your emails, or browse the web, for example.

Breton, a former French minister in the cabinets of Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Dominique de Villepin, is a more than symbolic character to announce this new phase in which telephone communications will reach the top, since among other tasks he has been the top executive of Orange, France Telecom and Bouygues Telecom, three big ones in the sector.

Talking on the phone at 900 kilometres per hour has been a recurring theme since the appearance of mobile phones, and it was in 2014, when Breton was running the French company Atos, one of the largest digital services companies in the world, when EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, opened the door for airlines on the continent to start allowing the use of the electronic devices on commercial flights with no restrictions other than those imposed by the aircraft crew.

Until about a decade ago, aviation and mobile telephony seemed incompatible and the ban on their use was attributed to security reasons. It was argued that the radiation emitted or received by a mobile phone could interfere with the avionics of the flight deck and in fact even today, when landing in situations with very low visibility, almost blind, depending on the landing instrument system of the with maximum precision, some pilots ask the passengers not only to activate the airplane mode of their terminals, but also to turn them off completely. This is done as an extra precautionary measure and so that no interference affects the guided approach.

Isolation in the sky has not been total, and even less so in recent years, when the installation of internal Wi-Fi networks on aircraft has become increasingly common. Through a variable rate, interested passengers can access different connection levels: from having only WhatsApp-type messaging systems available to having a little more bandwidth to be able to surf the Internet or even watch streaming broadcasts. For business class travellers, these services are usually included in the rate paid, or if you are a frequent flyer with a loyalty card, one of the advantages of loyalty to an airline is having this service without extra outlays.

This situation will change, at least on intra-European flights, when the European Commission enables a specific 5G frequency band so that travellers do not interrupt their conversations or connections at all times to travel by air transport. However, it is noted that if the flight crew deems it necessary, they may exceptionally order the switching off of communication devices for safety reasons.

The Commission and the European Aviation Safety Agency have been working for years in the field of telecommunications and if the decision has not been made until the end of 2022, it has been due to the continuous tests that have been carried out in coordination with different state entities. In the case of Spain, the SETID, Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructures, has been the interlocutor involved so that from 2023 talking on the phone from an airplane will be a reality. This will happen when the equipment is installed on board the Airbus, Mitsubishi, Boeing, Embraer or ATR that cross the skies of the continent.

The next step will be to establish what rate would be established for the use of voice and data services depending on the routes, since in many cases the plane would connect to different international telephone networks.

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