The BBC carried a report yesterday that raises the alarming possibility of extending cellphone use on board airplanes from just either end of a journey to throughout the duration of the flight.
Now before I go any further let me just say that I do not go as far as the British essayist Pico Iyer, who once wrote, in "The Eloquent Sounds of Silence":
Silence is sunshine...company is clouds;
silence is rapture...company is doubt;
silence is golden...company is brass.
But I will admit to a horror of being surrounded by people talking on their cellphones while the rest of us are trying to enjoy the latest movie or catch up on work, on life...or on sleep. Here's how it would work, according to Ofcom, the official body that's basically the telecommunications regulator in the UK:
The key to the whole thing, the technical trick that circumvents the problem found in 2003 by the CAA that mobile phone signals skew navigation bearing displays by up to five degrees, is that cellphones in the plane are not allowed to connect to any base stations on the ground.
The proposed system utilizes an on-board base station in the plane which communicates with passengers' own handsets. The base station - called a pico cell - is low power and creates a network area big enough to encompass the cabin of the plane. The base station routes phone traffic to a satellite, which is in turn connected to mobile networks on the ground. A network control unit on the plane is used to ensure that mobiles in the plane do not connect to any base stations on the ground. It blocks the signal from the ground so that phones cannot connect and remain in an idle state.
So much for the technical side if it. The social side of it is less clear-cut. One thing is an iPhone, but a skiPhone might just be the death-knell for (relative) silence on airplanes.