European passengers soon can fully use phones on flights

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European fliers will say “ciao bella” to airplane mode on their phones by next summer, as the European Union’s executive body will let planes designate new frequencies onboard for 5G signals.

“5G will enable innovative services for people and growth opportunities for European companies. The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity,” Thierry Breton, European commissioner for the Internal Market of the European Union, said in a press release.

Before this change, planes made the airplane mode warning out of an abundance of caution, hoping to prevent possible interference by mobile devices with the mobile communication frequency used by aircraft. 

The 5G frequency in Europe and the U.K., however, can operate without impeding the aircraft’s signals.

“There is much less prospect of interference. We have a different set of frequencies for 5G, and there are lower power settings than those that have been allowed in the U.S.,” Dai Whittingham, chief executive of the U.K. Flight Safety Committee, told the BBC.

The planned 5G frequency on planes would be fed through a picocell, which can act as a network intermediary between the aircraft’s devices and satellites or ground-based networks.

A rule change has also been made for 5G bands used on the ground, such as in cars or buses.

“Member States shall make the 5G frequency bands available for use aboard road vehicles as early as possible and at the latest by 30 June 2023,” the EC said.

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