An article posted by The Register this morning reports that Irish low cost carrier Ryanair is just a few weeks away from launching in-flight mobile phone service.
The service will be provided by OnAir, a joint venture between SITA and Airbus, which was setup to bring Internet, phone and text messaging service to the skies.
Mobile phone calls will cost £2 per minute, which at the current exchange rate translates to just under $4. At launch, the service will only be available to passengers with a mobile phone on the UK’s O2 and Three networks. The technology allows 6 simultaneous calls from each plane and the required equipment will first be introduced on 14 Dublin based Ryanair planes.
In a time where airlines are scrambling to find ways to generate more revenue, I doubt Ryanair will be the last airline to try and tap into the lucrative mobile phone market. It is however ironic that the low cost carriers are among the first to introduce these new services.
Mobile phone service on flights won’t be coming to the States any time soon, as the FCC has not lifted the ban on in-flight phone service. The upside to this, is that you won’t have to deal with a seatmate blabbering on his phone for the entire flight.
When airlines (slowly) started introducing in-flight Internet access to their flights, they were very quick to point out that “VOIP calls” would not be possible. VOIP stands for “Voice over Internet Protocol”, and basically means making phone calls over the Internet. All popular VOIP applications like Skype and Vonage have been blocked.
The airlines, and the provider behind the service obviously do not want a plane full of people chatting on the phone, yelling loudly about how they just made a fortune on the stock market. The other reason is of course because each flight only has a limited amount of data to share between all the passengers. If half the plane suddenly starts calling their aunts and uncles, regular web browsing would become impossible when all the bandwidth is sucked up by phone chatter.
Of course, when you tell people they can’t do something, their natural response is to see how they can prove you wrong. It took a week, but the block on VOIP calls has been successfully bypassed. By using a web service called Phweet, passengers have been able to make phone calls to their friends. The system only works with people who have a Twitter account, but it’s better than nothing. Of course, now this workaround has been published, it will only be a matter of time before the fun comes to an end, and the creative minds will have to find another working solution.
Sister-site Engadget got a tip from an inside source that a Southwest Airlines company presentation twice mentioned that “Inflight wireless internet connectivity” was being looked into for the low-cost carrier. Personally, I’d welcome the opportunity to do some in-flight browsing. When I fly domestically, nine times out of ten it’s with Southwest, and I wouldn’t hesitate shelling out a few extra bucks for Internet access — especially since their ticket rates are so competitive.
Southwest Airlines has seen a decline in numbers this quarter, and they’ve been announcing new features and re-evaluating old ones in an attempt to “generate more money without destroying what Southwest stands for,” said the Cranky Flier. Southwest has a high reputation to stand up to, but — unless they really screw up by changing things like A-B-C boarding — I’m not too worried. Bring on the wireless Internet!