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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mobile Phone Ban

Over the weekend, on a New York-bound flight from Washington, D.C., Huffington reportedly failed to turn off her mobile device, inciting the ire of an unimpressed cabin mate. Last month, Josh Duhamel was escorted off a plane in New York because he wouldn't turn off his BlackBerry. ( Lesson learned, the star later said.)

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These high-profile skirmishes are two of the latest examples in the debate to allow in-flight cell phone conversations.

In Europe, the Middle East and Asia, airlines that wire planes for connectivity can install special equipment to allow passengers to use their own cell phones to make and receive calls.

Domestic airlines own about 90 percent of the world's connected planes, but federal regulations still ban the use of in-flight mobile calls.

And while Uncle Sam doesn’t outlaw mid-air communications made using Skype or other Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, every U.S. carrier offering broadband has directed service providers such as Aircell/Gogo and Row 44 to block all voice calls and disable the VoIP function.

The disconnection may get wider.

At the end of 2010, more than 2,000 airplanes were wired for connectivity. "We expect that number to increase by 50 percent this year, to roughly 3,000 planes worldwide," said Amy Cravens, a market analyst for In-Stat.

With more international carriers jumping on the connectivity bandwagon, much of that growth will likely be represented by jets owned by airlines planning to, or already providing, mobile phone service.

And unless something changes in the U.S., some analysts worry the only travelers who will be unreachable by mobile phone will be those flying in U.S. airspace.

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