Europe leaps onboard the in-flight call bandwagon, but it’s not going to be cheap

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As those few precious moments where we have to put down our electronic gadgets are about to end, thanks to new rules about using them on aircraft, it seems the hours where we don’t have to listen to one side of other people’s mobile conversations may be disappearing too. In-flight calls are rapidly becoming the norm, and the European Commission is the latest to bow to continuing pressure from travelers, and is about to change its rules. There is a welcome caveat, though.

In a press release, the EU Commission said it’s preparing to give airlines the chance to offer 3G and 4G connectivity to passengers while the flight is in progress, an upgrade over the previous 2G connections. However, the connection will only offer data, so any calling will be restricted to using Skype or another similar app. That’s not the only potential sanity saver either.

To use 3G or 4G onboard, mobile devices will connect to a base station inside the aircraft, which will then connect to a network as normal. This means users won’t be using their service, but a roaming one instead. According to this report, the highest roaming charges could be levied, so data could end up costing (based on Vodafone UK’s structure) £3/$5 per megabyte. Forget Skype, that’ll make you think twice about sending an email.

Those thinking they can be sneaky and connect to their own networks will be out of luck, as a jamming system will be used to keep signals inside the plane, and using the potentially costly service offered by the airline. The EU Commission says the airlines will be in complete charge of the in-flight network, so there’s almost no chance of it being cheap.

The EU will provide official word on both in-flight calls and the use of gadgets during takeoff and landing before the end of November.

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