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iPhone Developer: Opinion

Is This the Death-Knell for Peace and Quiet in the Skies?

For crackberries this is just the beginning of the beginning...for the rest of us it's the beginning of the end

The BBC carried a report yesterday that raises the alarming possibility of extending cellphone use on board airplanes from just either end of a journey to throughout the duration of the flight.

Now before I go any further let me just say that I do not go as far as the British essayist Pico Iyer, who once wrote, in "The Eloquent Sounds of Silence":

Silence is sunshine...company is clouds;
silence is rapture...company is doubt;
silence is golden...company is brass.

But I will admit to a horror of being surrounded by people talking on their cellphones while the rest of us are trying to enjoy the latest movie or catch up on work, on life...or on sleep. Here's how it would work, according to Ofcom, the official body that's basically the telecommunications regulator in the UK:

The key to the whole thing, the technical trick that circumvents the problem found in 2003 by the CAA that mobile phone signals skew navigation bearing displays by up to five degrees, is that cellphones in the plane are not allowed to connect to any base stations on the ground.

The proposed system utilizes an on-board base station in the plane which communicates with passengers' own handsets. The base station - called a pico cell - is low power and creates a network area big enough to encompass the cabin of the plane. The base station routes phone traffic to a satellite, which is in turn connected to mobile networks on the ground. A network control unit on the plane is used to ensure that mobiles in the plane do not connect to any base stations on the ground. It blocks the signal from the ground so that phones cannot connect and remain in an idle state.

So much for the technical side if it. The social side of it is less clear-cut. One thing is an iPhone, but a skiPhone might just be the death-knell for (relative) silence on airplanes.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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Most Recent Comments
John Danenbarger 10/24/07 03:03:08 AM EDT

This is not the end of silence on the plane; That ended with all the loud and unnecessary announcements by the crew and staff of the plane. (Off to the left, under the wing, you see....) But I agree that cell phone yellers who never grew a volume button will fill in the gaps. Yikes.

Emanuel Molho 10/19/07 01:33:16 PM EDT

Is it really necessary to use cell phones on planes and in cars, especially when there is the real possibility of potential danger? How about a modicum of quietness for those who cannot bear the self-important, insufferable boors who subject all of us to their cell phone stupidities?

Cell phone addicts are unconscious, disrespectful, discourteous and obnoxious. Public transportation and areas; doctors' offices; theaters; restaurants; checkout lines; just about everywhere. In their own dream world walking like zombies in the street, or "driving" their cars. Their business, everyone's business. Unable to bear silence or be by, or with, themselves for a moment. Totally oblivious to---and inconsiderate of---their neighbors.

Cell phones will be as ubiquitous in airplanes as they are in places where we are all held captive. These (ab)users ought to be relegated to their own soundproof cabin, compelled to suffer one another's inanities. For the entire flight.

I, and hopefully those who share these feelings, will give our business to the airlines that have the sense to ban them.