Germany's Siemens has joined forces with an Airbus joint venture to develop technology that will make ordinary mobile-phone calls possible for passengers in flight by 2006, the companies said on Monday.
Siemens will supply lightweight on-board base stations for the GSM mobile network and channel selectors that will ensure mobile calls do not interfere with aircraft systems or mobile networks on the ground.
Airbus, which is 80-percent owned by European aerospace giant EADS, will build the technology into its existing electronics systems, market it to airlines and maintain it.
OnAir, a joint venture of Airbus and air-transport IT and telecoms specialist SITA Inc, said the complete systems would be ready for installation on Airbus A320 family aircraft flying on Western European routes by the second half of 2006.
The technology is also suitable for aircraft made by Airbus rival Boeing, OnAir said.
Boeing's Connexion unit, which already offers on-board broadband Web access, also expects to start selling cellphone services to airline passengers by next year, its president told Reuters last month.
The European market for in-flight mobile telephony will be worth up to 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) annually by 2010, management and technology consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton said in a report cited in this week's Flight International magazine.
But the consultancy said passengers would not pay large premiums to use their mobiles on board and that airlines and network operators would have to standardize their offerings by forming early alliances to maximize the market's potential.
Questions remained over how revenues would be split between mobile-phone operators, airlines, satellite operators and aircraft manufacturers, it added, estimating that between 50 and 75 percent could go to the phone operators.
Christoph Caselitz, president of Siemens' mobile networks division, said in a statement: "Being able to use their mobile phones on board aircraft has long been the wish of many passengers who often travel on business flights."
But Andrew Doyle, deputy editor of Flight International, said: "All of the airlines' efforts in the past to provide passengers with on-board telephone services haven't been successful."
He said businesses would probably appreciate being able to contact their staff in the air on their normal contact numbers, but added: "A lot of businessmen see being on board an aircraft as their last bastion of peace and quiet."
OnAir said aircraft crew would be able to switch the on-board mobile-phone system into different modes, such as text-only, to ensure quiet times in the cabin.
Siemens shares edged up 0.6 percent to 62.03 euros by 1330 GMT. EADS rose 1.6 percent to 26.59 euros in Paris. Source