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European Union Approves Cell Phones For Flights

The EU plan would allow airline passengers to use cell phone voice service once flights have reached an altitude of 10,000 feet.

The European Union approved cell phone calling for commercial airline flights Monday, but the French and the Germans immediately were at loggerheads on the issue. Air France has already introduced onboard cell phone service while Germany's Lufthansa said its customers don't want the service.

The EU plan would enable passengers to use cell phone voice service over base stations situated on airplanes once flights have reached an altitude of 10,000 feet. "In-flight mobile phone services can be a very interesting new service, especially for those business travelers who need to be ready to communicate wherever they are," said EU telecommunications commissioner Viviane Reding, according to media reports.

Reding, who has long pressured cell phone service providers to lower their roaming rates, immediately served notice that if pricing for in-flight calls is too high, providers will hear from the EU.

Air France began testing cell phone service, using OnAir's SwiftBroadband, on some of its flights last week. OnAir, a unit of European aircraft manufacturer Airbus, has pioneered the service in Europe. In-flight cell phone voice service in the United States has been stalled because consumers, the FCC, and airline companies have been lukewarm to the use of cell phones by passengers during flights.

Cell phone voice service on planes is unlikely to become a widespread reality soon. Already Lufthansa has indicated it doesn't want to use the service, although the German airline has said it wants to offer Internet access for its passengers. The airline had offered the service in the past and passengers indicted they liked it.

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