Australia's communications regulator has given airlines the green light to allow passengers to use their mobiles in the air whilst in Australian airspace.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority said airlines could offer satellite services that passengers would access through roaming arrangements with their carriers.
It followed a nine month trial of "pico" cell transceiver stations from AeroMobile, whose customers included Qantas, V Australia, Malaysia Airlines and Emirates.
An ACMA spokesman said it prevented mobiles from communicating with terrestrial networks such as those owned by Telstra, Optus and VHA.
Handsets communicated with a base station on the aircraft that linked to terrestrial networks through satellites.
The regulator expected airlines to use in-flight carriers such as AeroMobile and OnAir, which have carrier licences under the Australian Telecommunications Act.
iTnews believed the regulator was consulting with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority on the use of terrestrial networks in-flight, although such technology was yet to be trialled.
Telstra's roaming agreement with AeroMobile charged its customers $4.14 a minute for calls to Australia, $0.96 to receive calls, $0.40 flagfall and $1.16 for each text message.
A Telstra spokesman said it hoped the regulator would lift restrictions prohibiting terrestrial carriers from servicing their customers.
He expected Telstra's network to reach customers on domestic flights, which according to Qantas, typically reached up to 40,000 feet.
"Australia has a thriving and highly competitive mobile market and there is no reason why it shouldn't extend to the skies as well," he said.
"Consumers should not be restricted to any one technology or provider, especially if it forces them to pay more for a lesser service," he said. "Because it's satellite-based, pricing would be higher and speeds would be slower."
A VHA spokesman said the company supported ACMA's new licensing arrangement, provided the licensing scheme with airlines supported "fair and equitable competition amongst carriers".
"VHA supports the proposed approach by ACMA as it ensures that customers are permitted to use their existing mobile service, which is likely to accelerate customer adoption of the new service," he told iTnews.
The authority said it regarded the deployment of any particular kind of service as "entirely a commercial decision to be made by service providers and airlines".
Authority chairman Chris Chapman said the rules were developed with aviation safety regulations and the integrity of terrestrial networks in mind.
"Until recently, the use of mobile phones on planes has not been allowed because mobile phone technology could not used safely onboard aircraft," an ACMA spokesman said.
"New technology now provides a safe, reliable environment within the aircraft cabin for the use of mobile phones."
Qantas declined to comment on when it would allow mobile roaming on its flights, telling iTnews that it was continuing to work with regulators and suppliers but had "no firm announcements to make at the moment".
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