Airline, Telecom Industries Still up in the Air About Airborne VoIP

Carl Weinschenk

It's likely that the procedure described in this Wired piece, the use of an online application called Phweet and Twitter to make VoIP calls on airplanes, soon will be squelched by the airlines or service provider Aircell. On the other hand, if Phweet can facilitate voice so easily, it is likely that other applications will follow suit and offer voice communications at 5,000 feet.


Indeed, interest -- and passenger queasiness -- are running high. FierceVoIP says that reporters on test flights have successfully used Skype, but maintains that it and other Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based services can be identified and stopped.


Techdirt, however, seems a bit skeptical of the ability to reliably discern data that happens to be carrying voice packets while giving the go-ahead to others. Though this Dallas Morning News blogger is satisfied passengers themselves will stop high-altitude babblers, the Techdirt piece implies that the only real way to stop airplane VoIP is an overt ban, and suggests waiting to see whether problems really follow the introduction of voice before making a move.


This back and forth, being held before an airplane broadband landscape that is quickly evolving from nothing to trials to commercial rollouts, suggests that both the airline and communications industries will have to decide soon what they need to do about voice.


The interesting thing is that the two industries have slightly different priorities for their decisions. Both, of course, must ensure that voice in no way compromises safety. The airline industry must also discern whether most passengers want to allow phone calls on airplanes: Sitting next to somebody talking on a 20-minute bus ride is annoying. Doing so on a six-hour cross-country flight is an order of magnitude worse.

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