Boeing Tests Cell Phone Service in Flight

Qualcomm and Boeing's Connexion have joined forces to test in-flight mobile phone communications in a specially equipped Boeing 737-400 aircraft, the companies said Monday.

Connexion, which already provides a wireless Internet service to airline passengers with laptops, hopes to offer them a mobile phone service as soon as regulators in the U.S. give the green light.

Qualcomm and Connexion have already conducted a series of tests using both Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) technologies over an on-board network with infrastructure and integration support from UTStarcom.

The tests involve using a "pico cell," or small mobile base station, that is installed in the plane and connected by an air-to-ground satellite link.

In July, Boeing's archrival Airbus SAS reached an agreement with Siemens AG to deliver a similar lightweight GSM pico cell. The system will be installed and tested in an Airbus A320 airplane.

Airbus and IT networking company Sita are co-founders of the joint venture OnAir, which aims to provide communication services to airborne customers. The joint venture expects to begin offering service in Europe in the second half of this year.

In the U.S., however, regulators have yet to approve in-flight mobile communications.

Officials from the U.S. Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and FBI have warned of potential dangers, including the use of mobile phones to trigger a bomb smuggled on board.

Some flight attendants have also warned that allowing mobile phones to be used on planes could make their jobs harder during an emergency and also lead to further cases of air rage by passengers who don't want to be disturbed.