Analog In-Flight Cell Service Fades

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As technology marches on, some are bound to get stepped upon, but a Colorado company says it's doing its best to ease the pain some of its aircraft telephone customers are feeling. AirCell built its earlier systems around the analog cellphone networks that used to be the norm for ground-based cellphones. But now, most cellphones are digital and some cellular providers are phasing out analog systems. According to California pilot Chris Schwartz, that will soon make the $11,000 phone system he bought from AirCell three years ago nothing more than a "paperweight." He said he's also upset that Aircell's solution is to ask him to pay another $10,000 for a satellite phone. AirCell spokesman Bill Peltola told AVweb that's half the regular price for a satellite phone and most customers are happy with the arrangement. Peltola said the speed of the conversion from analog to digital caught his company by surprise and AirCell simply didn't have the market clout to keep the analog sites alive. "We are a small player when it comes to the dollars that move around in the cellular world," Peltola said. He said he understands the frustration of some analog system owners but noted there's been an "overwhelmingly positive response" from most who've been offered the half-price satcom system. The satellite systems, which use Boeing's constellation of 66 Iridium low-orbit satellites, offer worldwide service and can be used to get weather graphics and other information. Their coverage is guaranteed for at least 10 years. Digital service for phones and other devices will be available for aircraft in 18 months to two years, said Peltola.