Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is there really a problem with passenger use of iPads and cell phones in some flight phases? Well,, maybe there is.

I had not paid a lot of attention to the issue of passengers’ being ordered to turn off all electronics before take off and at all times when aircraft is below 10000 feet.  Furthermore, all cell phones must remain in “airplane mode” when on even at higher elevations.  Passengers generally aren’t allowed to make or receive cell phone calls at any altitude.  On May 17, I reported on plans by Virgin Atlantic to allow cell phone calls on board.

Delta actually tells passengers to put iPads and smartphones in airplane mode and then to turn them off.

Are these rules necessary?  While problems are rare, industry studies point to reports where operations of navigation systems in older planes have sometimes been seriously compromised, as in this report by Brian Ross in December 2011 for ABC News.  So this sounds like a "common good" problem.  It's not practical for airlines to retrofit the shielding on all older planes quickly. 

John Nance, aviation safety consultant, has somewhat poohed the claims of danger, at least as reported in this Time Newsfeed article by Frances Romero in Dec. 2011, here.  

A blog called “Skeptical Scalpel” weighs in on the IATA report here. (I couldn’t find the report online).    The iPad and some modern smart phones are reported as the most dangerous to older aircraft.
I had been oblivious to this issue before, and even allowed my cell phone to stay on in regular mode in a couple of trips last year.  I had noticed that most of the time the phone (then a Blackberry) could not get or maintain a bars signal.

Yesterday, I tried Delta’s GoGo Inflight Internet service, flying from Salt Lake to Baltimore.  It cost $12.50 and was reasonably fast (between 3G and 4G), and I could blog on my laptop. I found that GoGo does block some ads.  It went down only once, for about a minute. 

Flying out last week (from Charlotte to LAX), USAir did not have the service. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Verizon will end unlimited 4G plans, even for existing customers

Verizon will curtail allowing new customers unlimited data with its 4G LTE plan and will eventually stop grandfathering existing customers into unlimited plans when they convert from 3G.  My own plan (it says on my cell phone) is unlimited.

Robert Yu has a detailed story in USA Today here.  He says that Verizon will offer some Family member sharing plans.

USA Today links to a blog on how to survive bandwidth rationing.  One tip is to use cable for heavy video and save the heavy downloads for home.  Unfortunately, Microsoft (and sometimes Apple) and other vendors like Adobe keep interrupting users with huge security updates all the time,  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Virgin Atlantic will expand wireless services for passengers, taking the risk

Virgin Atlantic will be the first British (or US) airline to expand wireless access in flight, to allow full access to voice, text and Internet, despite technical controversy over possible interference with aircraft, as in a story on Expert Reviewshere.   This is supposed to be an improvement on passenger rental of limited Internet access for a fee on flights.

Yet I'm told that regulatory environments have discouraged innovation in this area.

In the US, not all carriers have been vigorous about offering even paid-for Internet on long flights. USAir seems to be slow on this.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Comparison of the regulatory environments for airlines and broadband -- instructive

Timothy Lee has an interesting article on Ars Technica comparing the airline industry with telecommunications, “What the airline industry can teach us about broadband caps”, link here

He starts with an tale about an airline traveler who wasn’t allowed by a particular gate agent to bring an obviously fragile viola on to a fight as a carry-on. (That brings up a posting I made on my “IT job market” blog May 9 about carry-ons, electronics, and maintaining connectivity while traveling.) He gets into a discussion of how “first class” passengers subsidize travel for everyone but that works in a competitive market.  He also discusses how airlines were prevented from having too much vertical integration. They can’t own the airports.

But no such analogy exists in telecommunications, where merging and consolidation is removing competition, particularly in the broadband use area.  This is does not bode well for businesses  (like Netflix) and consumers who want to move movies and television to online streaming,