Airplanes and underground stations were once the last vestiges of respite from the bleeping, blipping and clicking of mobile phones in the UK. But with WiFi coming to a London underground station near you some time soon, the news that airlines are set to follow suit probably won’t surprise you all that much.
Virgin Atlantic is set to be the first British airline to enable full in-flight network access to mobile phones including voice-calls, reports The Telegraph. It will initially be limited to Virgin’s new Airbus A330 planes en-route from London to New York, but the service will be rolled out to 17 planes covering ‘at least’ ten routes by the end of 2012.
In-flight mobile access will be granted by AeroMobile, a company specializing in in-flight connectivity, which is part-owned by Panasonic. It’s believed that Virgin will charge users roughly the same as standard roaming fees.
British Airways’ OnAir service already allows travelers to use their mobile phones on a single route from London City to New York, but this is restricted to Internet and text messages. For this, travelers require an international roaming plan, and it’s billed directly through their own mobile operator.
It perhaps goes without saying that during take-off and landing, the existing rules will still apply, and you will have to switch off everything. Also, American regulations stipulate that you will have to switch it off 250 miles from the US.
There is a growing legion of non-UK airlines offering in-flight WiFi and/or mobile network access, including Qantas, Emirates and Lufthansa. Virgin Atlantic’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Steve Griffiths added that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which is expected to operational by 2014, will likely have full WiFi access on board.
Earlier this year we also reported that London-based media company IMG Media, which is a part of the global sports, fashion and media company IMG Worldwide, had partnered with in-flight entertainment and communication (IFEC) systems company Panasonic Avionics Corporation (Panasonic), to launch the “first-ever live global premium 24-hour sports channel” for its airline passengers.
This means that some flyers will be enjoying live coverage of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from London, The Barclays Premier League and German Bundesliga (football), The Masters, The Open Championship and the Ryder Cup (golf), Formula 1, Roland Garros and the Australian Open (tennis).
One step at a time, it seems, but the skies are slowly-but-surely becoming extensions of our livingrooms.