Air New Zealand passengers will be able to use mobile phones on selected domestic flights by the end of this month as the Kiwi flag-carrier trials in-flight wireless in two of its new Airbus A320 aircraft.
Both are fitted with a 'picocell' which will allow passengers to use their mobile phones to send and receive calls and SMS messages. That cell-in-the-sky won't be switched on until closer to the end of this month, so you have a few weeks of guaranteed silence before the person next to you starts yapping away throughout the whole flight.
But it probably won't come to that: the prices are literally sky-high and the service will initially be restricted to customers of Vodafone New Zealand. On top of that the service will only be switched on during the level flight or 'cruise' section of the journey. Yes, that's twenty NZ dollars per MB -- which works out at a staggering NZ$20,000 or AU$15,160 per gigabyte of data.
There's no word yet from other NZ providers Telecom or 2degrees about their roaming pricing on Vodafone's network, nor from Vodafone on pricing for non-NZ customers. At some point after the service has been trialled on both aircraft Air New Zealand "will then evaluate demand for the service before making a decision on (upgrading) the rest of the fleet" a spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller.
The bulk of Air New Zealand's A320s serve trans-Tasman routes along with some very high demand internal flights, and a total of 14 factory fresh Airbus A320s will slowly replace Air NZ's domestic fleet of elderly 737-300s over the next five years. In-flight telephony isn't exactly new, of course; it has been around since 1984, when Airfone introduced in-seat handsets.
Qantas trialled a single domestic 767 aircraft a couple of years ago, using onboard mobile phone picocells -- essentially tiny, low power mobile phone base stations.
Passengers' phones could connect to the base stations at a very low power for GPRS data communication and SMS, rather than the high power they'd have to use while attempting to communicate with ground base stations.
ACMA gave this sort of inflight mobile telephony system the green-light for broader implementation in July this year, but it was met by strong protest from Telstra, which said it would restrict passengers to using one provider and cost passengers more than it need to. Telstra said Australian mobile networks were already capable of handling communication with passengers on planes. Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since.
MEPs push through legislation to cut fees for use of mobiles while travelling in EU, with holidaymakers able to call, text and surf at UK rates from mid-2017. Members of the European parliament have voted through new rules that will scrap mobile roaming charges and stop holidaymakers returning home to the nightmare of a massive phone bill racked up on their travels. The vote sees the deal reached between European authorities in June to scrap increased costs for calls, text and data while roaming with the EU, passed into law. UK mobile phone users who travel within Europe will only have to pay the same prices as they would at home, curbing the cost of continued mobile connectivity while abroad. The news was welcomed by campaigners, though some were cautious over some clauses that might limit the agreement’s utility for all.
The vote followed more than two years of negotiations and U-turns as the European parliament butted heads with EU member states concerned about the financial impact on their national telecoms groups. The anti-roaming plans had been scheduled for the end of 2015, but were blocked in March by ministers of national governments through the European council. The roaming plans were twinned with a vote over amendment to telecoms regulation that would have reinforced European net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should not give preferential treatment to certain websites and services. This year, phone operators can still charge travellers to European member states up to 19 cents (14p) a minute for outgoing calls, five cents for incoming calls, six cents per text message, and 20 cents per megabyte of data downloaded, on top of their normal tariff. In April next year those costs will be reduced to five cents per minute, two cents per SMS and five cents per MB.


It is this trade that allows UK mobile phone users to make calls, send texts and access data using European networks while in countries such as Germany, Spain or France. Some UK mobile operators have come out ahead of the roaming changes, others have stuck steadfastly to increased charges that can see bills of hundreds of pounds for holidaymaker usage that would not seem out of the ordinary in the UK. Some operators, including Vodafone UK, added daily charges to user bills for use of their allowance in European countries. One-fifth of UK mobile users travelling to the EU in the last year have faced higher than usual bills for usage, collectively amounting to £573m, according to data from Uswitch.
While consumers may welcome the news, some have seen the moves to cut premiums for roaming as potentially damaging to the operation of mobile operators, removing a lucrative revenue stream. Others see the moves as opening new routes for revenue potential from increased overseas mobile use. The next step for regulators is a reform of the roaming wholesale market, which has potential to further delay the process of roaming charge removal beyond June 2017, should talks drag. Once agreements are in place, it could take the European mobile phone operator market one step closer to being free of its current geographic restrictions.
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And with Auckland-Wellington and  Wellington-Christchurch flights taking only 45 minutes to begin with that's about 30 minutes of reception.
So make sure that you've switched your Vodafone NZ cellphone all the way off to avoid a surprise roaming bill.
The pricing for the service was at global roaming rates for the Qantas flying "country", even though the plane never left Australia.
It suggested airlines should simply provide a link between the plane and the ground, allowing passengers to use their existing mobile network, with the airline charging a flat fee of $10 or $15 per flight. It asked Qantas and other airlines to a round-table discussion with Telstra, and there has been very little by way of public comment from any party since. Roaming charges will not be completely removed until June 2017 and will require reform of the roaming wholesale market on which national phone operators across Europe trade services between each other. Others, including Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa’s Three UK mobile, removed roaming charges for those travelling to a selection of European countries, mirroring the end goal for the newly passed legislation.


The fall in roaming revenue for operators is sharpening their focus on new areas such as machine-to-machine connections and vertical segments.
In the days before the vote Roger Helmer MEP tabled an amendment to reject the agreement on behalf of Ukip.
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