UK communications regulator Ofcom says okay to mobile phone use on aircraft

UK communications regulator Ofcom has published a proposal on Thursday 18 October that would license the right for passengers to make calls above an altitude of 3,000 metres (9,850 feet).

But Ofcom has qualified its recommendation saying its remit is limited to the regulation of spectrum and electronic communications services. Safety must be assured before phones are allowed to ring in the air - and safety is the responsibility of other regulators - the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the UK''s Civil Aviation Authority.

Ofcom''s main issue in spectrum management was that mobile communications on aircraft (MCA) systems should not generate any harmful interference to terrestrial networks. It says a European standard — that the absolute minimum height above ground for any transmission from the system in operation shall be 3,000 metres — should reduce the risk.

Aircraft will need to be fitted with onboard networks for passengers'' phones to operate. Ofcom believes the equipment should be licensed rather than licence-exempt, given the uncertainty surrounding their performance and the substantial risks to terrestrial networks if they were the victims of interference.

The regulator has not recommended levy of any additional fees for the use of the spectrum as a result of it being licensed. It says deregulation is a distinct possibility in the future, if the risk of interference is proved negligible.

Onboard networks will be allocated mobile country codes and mobile network codes, one for each service provider, to give connectivity to passengers. Ofcom has also noted consumer concerns about the potential for discomfort among passengers as a result of others using mobile phones, but says this is the responsibility of the civil aviation authority.