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Mobile phones cleared for takeoff

Cell phones and wireless devices pass Airbus's onboard tests

European plane maker Airbus SAS has successfully completed the first in-flight trial of mobile phones and infrastructure equipment based on Global System for Mobile Communications technology, the company says.

The trial, which took place aboard an Airbus A320 flight-test plane, culminated a two-year European Commission-supported research project aimed at testing wireless technology for in-flight mobile phone and computing services.

Airbus, which was tight-lipped about the trial prior to its launch, expects to have the technology installed in its aircraft from 2006 onward. A key objective is to provide service at affordable prices, the company said.

Substantial demand for in-flight mobile phone service exists, according to a survey by the Norwegian phone company Telenor Satellite Services and Arinc conducted at the London Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Almost half of the 1,200 business and leisure travelers interviewed for the survey said they would like mobile phone access in flight.

The Airbus tests involved communications to and from several different types of GSM mobile phones on board to mobile and fixed telephones on the ground, and to another mobile phone onboard, Airbus said.

Signals from the mobile phones were received by an onboard base station, and then transferred to an onboard server that forwarded them through the Globalstar Telecommunications satellite communications network to the ground and finally routed to ground-based phone networks.

Also tested were several wireless computing services, such as 3G (third-generation) based on Wideband Code Division Multiplex Access technology, wireless LAN using the Wi-Fi standard 802.11 and short-range Bluetooth.

Tested services included GSM telephony, web browsing, email, and connectivity to a virtual private network. An onboard intranet was demonstrated as were PDAs for crew use.

The Wireless Cabin project is being led by the German Aerospace Centre. Partners include Inmarsat, Siemens and Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson.

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