Ofcom Paves Way For Satellite Wi-Fi On UK Aircraft

Flights delay plane - Shutterstock - © Oleg V. Ivanov

Ofcom wants to make it easier to deliver satellite Wi-Fi to planes, trains and ships

Ofcom has paved the way for airlines to offer in-flight Wi-Fi to customers by proposing to relax and simplify the regulations for satellite broadband services on aircraft, ships and trains.

It proposed promotion of three types of Earth Stations on Mobile Platforms (ESOMPs), a vehicle-based radio transmitter or receiver, for use of frequencies not taken up by terrestrial radio systems in the UK, but already used by other types of satellite receivers.

The regulator launched a consultation today detailing the proposals and plans to make licenses available for aircraft and ship mounted ESOMPs in early 2014.

Satellite Wi-Fi

In airplane © – Fotolia.com“The last few years has seen increasing interest in the use of Earth Stations on Mobile Platforms (ESOMPs) for providing broadband connectivity to passengers on board moving vehicles, including aircraft, ships and trains,” said Ofcom.

“Several satellite operators are planning to launch commercial satellite networks in 2013/2014 that support the use of ESOMPs transmitting in the frequency band 27.5 30 GHz and receiving in the band 17.3 20.2 GHz. To facilitate the take up of these new innovative services, we are proposing to introduce a regulatory framework to allow their use.”

Under the proposals, equipment for land-based ESOMPs would be exempt from needing a license, but aircraft and ship-mounted receivers would be licensed under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006. Licences for would be issued for planes through the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and those for ships through a variation of the Ship Radio licence with no additional fee.

Wi-Fi services are currently available on a number of US domestic flights, while Australian airline Qantas has conducted tests on long haul services. If Ofcom’s plans are adopted, it would be the latest in a number of initiatives to improve connectivity on Britain’s transport network.

Tube passengers are able to access Wi-Fi services for a fee or for free if their mobile or broadband service provider has a wholesale agreement with Virgin Media, although mobile coverage is still lacking.

A number of UK train operators offer Wi-Fi services to customers, with the government rumoured to be making extra money available to extend the rollout in this year’s budget, although no such funding was allocated.

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