An InFlight Voice Proposition

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This Hot Topic may seem like the ‘long way around” to our message but, who knows, it may be worth it.

A recent article from Yesmail Interactive analyzed 6.4 billion email usage in the last quarter noted that the number of mobile orders went up some 58%, 50% of consumers view email on a mobile device, and mobile revenue increased some 52%… with desktop growing by only 18%. This got us thinking that with more flight free time, the airplane has to be a wonderful place to sell stuff because the passenger has time and the mobile devices to do so. Sure, there exist catalogs to do just that but relegating the cabin crew to retail clerks is a bad idea. However, there is the Internet.

And that may be the problem because today you have to pay for it and it is not the fastest connection available… by it’s nature. But having said that, the airplane is a great place to merchandise because us travelers have time to kill and money in our pockets. Further, if the airline crew does not have objections, everything, including tickets, could be sold on the airplane via devices such as Square or Local Register… if the Internet connection is up to the task.

As an aside, and speaking of Local Register, Amazon sees the online retailers directly competing with payment providers like PayPal, Square and others. Note that their new credit card/mobile device called Amazon Local Register is a payment solution that consists of a secure card reader and mobile app which allows businesses to accept credit and debit cards from a smartphone or tablet. Sooner or later, an Internet equipped airline is going to try it… but we digress.

It all boils down to money… and data rates. Consider Southwest Airlines who sees unused hours of availability when planes are down want to use the B737 Ku-band time from Global Eagle for data collection instead of ACARS. The point is airlines are actively reducing costs and seeking more revenue from non standard applications and data is one of them.

Which brings us back to our original essay of higher data speeds. Bear with us as this may get complicated because we want to end up at inflight voice calling.

Next, John Courtright, an executive at SIE and former Claircom (eventually sold to AT&T) executive, wrote us an interesting position/observation about inflight voice telephony:

“Referencing the two stories linked here, the FCC, per the USA Today link,  seems prepared to narrowly allow cell phone calls on passenger aircraft.

The DOT, on the other hand, is leaning to continue the ban on cell phone calls on passenger aircraft in U.S. air space (as referenced in the Ars Technica link).  The FAA is a department under the DOT (for those of you who are organizationally challenged).

The arguments line up pretty squarely.

For those in favor of cell phone calls on U.S. passenger aircraft, the points in favor are:

• What’s the big deal?  There were phones on planes before.  Remember Airfone and Claircom?  Nothing bad happened then.
• OnAir, the European connectivity firm, states that they have had no problems with cell phone users in Europe so why can’t the Americans deal with it?
• Mobile phone usage is ubiquitous, right?  We have it on trains, buses, ferry boats, in taxis and private autos so let’s expand the mobility benefits to airline passengers!
For those NOT in favor of cell phone calls on U.S. passenger aircraft, the points against airplane cell phone usage are:

• DECORUM (or more properly, the lack of decorum).  Some people talk too loud and some people don’t know when to shut up and some people talk about things that just downright creepy or scandalous.  Do you really want to know about the weekend tawdry exploits of the big, hairy guy, sitting  in the row in front of you, had with the trapeze artist at Circus, Circus?  Or the obscenity-laced comments made by some jerk loud enough for the little child to hear clearly.  Flight attendants do not want to become decorum monitors and I don’t blame them.
• The airplane is just not a desirable place to have a phone conversation.   Travel is anxiety ridden enough.  Some frequent fliers use the plane trip as a time of refuge from the tether of non-stop ubiquitous communication technologies.  Airplane flights may not turn into Yoga Ashrams but some people want to be left alone, albeit in a crowded cabin.
• Is the airborne cell phone call capability a communications conduit for bad guys?  Couldn’t hijackings, or worse, be better coordinated with onboard cell phone connectivity?
• Years back, Oregon Congressman DeFazio (whom I told you about and whom you’ve contacted), put a cell phone ban for airplanes a rider to  legislation.  I heard he hated being bothered on his PDX to Washington, D.C. flights.  I suspect he still hates them.  And so do a lot of other people”

Here’s our take on the situation – Having presented both sides of the inflight voice telephony views and the great potential for revenue generation inflight using higher data speeds and mobile devices our proposal is: What if airlines and vendors were to agree to install free, or less expensive, higher speed data connections on aircraft, would the public “accept” inflight voice telephony then? If not, what will entice them to accept inflight telephony?

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