New EU legislation allows airlines to provide in-flight 5G connectivity


Posts: 147   +12
Something to look forward to: Airline passengers have become accustomed to either completely cutting themselves off from the outside world or paying additional charges for in-flight Wi-Fi access. But thanks to new legislation passed by the European Commission, passengers aboard European Union-based flights may soon be able to use all of their device's standard mobile features while in flight.

On Thursday, the European Commission announced that EU-based airlines will now be allowed to provide in-flight wireless 4G and 5G access for all passengers. Once implemented, passengers can use their mobile devices in the same ways as any ground-based mobile network while in flight. Goodbye airplane mode; we can't say it's been fun.

An onboard "small cell" network established using picocells will provide the in-flight service. Small cells function as miniature, low-power cell towers that augment typical cell towers by filling in coverage gaps and offloading cellular traffic. The result is a broader, more reliable cellular network that delivers high data rates and easier deployments using simple, cost-effective cellular solutions.

Picocells are a specific type of small, low-cost small-cell technology that can support between 32 and 64 individual users while providing up to 250m in-network coverage. Their size and ease of deployment indoors or outdoors make them ideal for augmenting and improving the range within facilities and structures such as schools, shopping centers, and other small businesses. Once deployed to participating aircraft, the cells will route calls, texts, and other mobile data between the plane and ground-based mobile networks.

The European Commission's Thierry Breton, a commissioner for Internal Market, sees the new legislation as a potential catalyst to drive new EU-based services and business growth.

"The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity," Breton said.

The push to expand 4G and 5G access will likely extend beyond air travel. The Commission also amended a decision on 5GHz, making the bands available for use in cars, buses, and other forms of transportation. The amendment to the implementing decision says that Member States shall make the 5GHz frequency bands available for use aboard road vehicles no later than June 2023.

Image credit: Airplane mode by Sten Ritterfeld, small cell diagram from

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Posts: 118   +160
There’s a difference between “allowed to provide” and “must provide.” Have the plane companies wanted to offer 5G cellular service, but were barred from doing so by EU law?

Uncle Al

Posts: 9,363   +8,581
I suspect, as with most airlines, this is more a matter of money than anything else. If they are forced to use a service like Star-link, then there has to be a charge, otherwise it could just be optional to either provide it as a well advertised "perk" or charge it automatically on tickets where the customers won't know or see it unless they ask.


Posts: 856   +1,449
For short flight altitude is enough to use land station to connect, for longer - I think the cost of 'extender' wont be much, and companies like Virgin or Vodafone will fight to get their device to the plane. It will be rather cheap, if not free.

Much bigger problem will be everyone talking over the phones.
On the other hand, kids will be quiet watching YouTube
... on the other hand again, probably without headphones ;(


Posts: 898   +917
Who Flies Commercial? People in a stink tube. Not me.
And I would not fly to Europe for anything, let me repeat...anything


Posts: 1,286   +2,040
TechSpot Elite
Never say never. I used to think that now I live here. :)

Europe isn't bad overall, I lived there for awhile. The variety of, and exposure to so many cultures is a huge highlight in such a close proximity.

/e: Exposure living in Europe is also critically instrumental in helping individuals (ironically alot of Americans) develop a more well-rounded political worldview, in so many ways.

But generally compared to to the US in terms of... almost everything else, they're still quite behind. And given some modern geopolitical projections, may actually continue to slide further into an economical & political dependency on America if they don't wake up.


Posts: 2,085   +1,298
Can't imagine the noise in the economy cabin when people started making calls inside the plane. not to worry though such service would probably be expensive for a lot of the people. it's probably gonna be much more expensive than onboard wifi.
Plans already have decent (paid) wi-fi on board, and they explicitly call out voice & video calls as being banned.


Posts: 1,286   +2,040
TechSpot Elite
What is everything else?
GDP per capita, infrastructure, technology development, natural resources, heavily handicapped by EU policies that help and hinder individual economy growth, military, exports, world influence...

This is a rolling average, and the list could go on, but the general concept is straightforward.