New EU legislation allows airlines to provide 5G connectivity on board.

What to look forward to: Airline passengers are accustomed to either completely isolate themselves from the outside world, or pay extra for Wi-Fi access in flight. But thanks to new legislation passed by the European Commission, passengers on flights from the European Union will soon be able to use all the standard mobile features of their device while flying.

On Thursday, the European Commission announced that airlines based in the EU will now admissible provide in-flight access to 4G and 5G wireless networks for all passengers. Once implemented, passengers will be able to use their mobile devices in the same way as any land mobile network while in flight. Farewell, airplane mode; we can’t say it was fun.

airborne “small cell” A network built using pico cells will provide in-flight services. Small cells function as miniature low-power cell towers that complement typical cell towers by filling coverage gaps and offloading cellular traffic. The result is a wider and more reliable cellular network, delivers high data rates and easier deployment with simple, cost-effective cellular solutions.

Picocells are a special type of small and low cost small cell technology that can support 32 to 64 individual users, providing coverage up to 250m within the network. Their size and ease of deployment indoors or outdoors make them ideal for extending and improving range in institutions and structures such as schools, malls and other small businesses. Once deployed to a participating aircraft, the cells will route calls, text messages and other mobile data between the aircraft and terrestrial mobile networks.

European Commission Thierry BretonThe Internal Market Commissioner sees the new legislation as a potential catalyst to stimulate new EU services and business growth.

“The sky is no longer the limit when it comes to the opportunities offered by ultra-fast, high-bandwidth communications,” Breton said.

The drive to expand access to 4G and 5G is likely to go beyond air travel. The Commission also amended the 5 GHz decision to make these bands available for use in cars, buses and other modes of transport. The amendment to the executive decision states that Member States must make the 5 GHz bands available for use on board road vehicles no later than June 2023.

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

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