High-speed in-flight Internet on the horizon after Ofcom announces consultation into ESOMPs

High speed in-flight Wi-Fi will soon be available in the UK after Ofcom announced a consultation over plans to allow a new system of satellites to speed up access on aircraft, trains and ships by 2014.

The communications regulator will allow a network of Earth Stations on Mobile Platforms [ESOMPs] that are capable of providing connections that are up to 10 times the speed of those currently available to travellers.

"ESOMPs represent a potentially valuable innovation and the development of a new market for mobile communications. UK citizens and consumers will benefit from having broadband access whilst travelling in places where alternative means of connectivity is limited," Ofcom's proposal states.

A number of satellite operators are already investigating the opportunities that ESOMPs could present and are looking at starting networks that support them in the next few months.

As for whether airlines will actually end up using the technology, an Ofcom representative told the BBC that they would "have to make a commercial decision" on the technology.

British Airways, the UK’s largest airline, are waiting to see how the situation develops and their in-flight entertainment and technology manager Richard D’Cruze told the BBC they are "closely monitoring developments in the connectivity market in both the satellite and direct air-to-ground technology areas".

Businesses will be happy with the plans as it will give them increased business opportunities whilst travelling that aren’t always possible with the sluggish service and patchy reception in place currently. It will make it easier for them to stay connected with the office via various voice services, something that broadband experts think will become common-place on aeroplanes.

"If the consultation does result in the roll-out of this satellite based mobile connectivity, with its stabilised satellite dish system, the totally connected world vision will be one step closer, and passengers on aeroplanes may have to endure the loud telephone calls of others who have VoIP, Skype or similar on their phones,” Andrew Ferguson editor of thinkbroadband.com told the BBC.

The US Federal Communications Commission [FCC] has already allowed the use of ESOMPs with Boeing one of those to firmly back Wi-Fi and wireless streaming on their planes.

Ofcom's consultation gives stakeholders and commercial enterprises the chance to offer feedback with an official decision over ESOMPs to be taken in December 2013, before the technology is rolled out in 2014.

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