Cellphones Tested Aloft

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The days of "turn off your cellphones" while flying commercial seem to be numbered, but that doesn't yet mean the big "OK" is right around the corner for cellphone use in your airborne GA cockpit. Last month, ARINC and Telenor ASA said they would soon have a system ready that would safely link cellphones to airliners' satellite-based phone systems. And last week, Qualcomm tested a similar system aloft in an American Airlines jet, with members of the media invited on board to give it a try. Reporters were given phones with code division multiple access, or CDMA, technology. Connections from the plane were generally good, the Associated Press reported, although some calls were dropped. (Madness, who would stand for such a thing?) Sound quality was about the same as a cell call on the ground, but with a one-second delay that made conversation awkward. Text messaging is also available with the system. The technology will take a couple of years to mature, Qualcomm said. A small in-cabin CDMA cellular base station on the plane, which uses standard cellular communications, was connected to the worldwide terrestrial phone network by an air-to-ground Globalstar satellite link. The system will allow for calls to be made regardless of altitude and even over the ocean. The in-flight test required special permission from the FAA and the Federal Communications Commission ... to take what some would call an unfinished technology when it's in use on the ground and loft it into the air.