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Aircell unveils Android in-flight phone

Mar 24, 2011 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 10 views

Inflight telephony vendor Aircell announced its first Android-based phone, designed specifically for business aircraft. Due later this year, the Aircell Smartphone offers a 3.8-inch screen, said to be the largest available in the aviation telephony market.

In-flight telephony appears to be the latest niche market to fall before the Android onslaught. Aircell, which calls itself the world's leading provider of inflight connectivity, is upgrading its line of business aircraft cabin phones with its Android-based Aircell Smartphone, starting later this year.

This "next-generation cabin handset" features a 3.8-inch screen that appears to have a high vertical to horizontal ratio. Like a typical aviation phone, the handset offers an exposed keypad, and is designed to fit flush into seat-backs, cabin walls, bulkheads, or drink rails.

Aircell Smartphone
(Click to enlarge)

The device can be used as a wired handset, or wirelessly for roaming around an aircraft, says the company. No processor details were offered, but the company says the phone offers Bluetooth for hands-free operation, as well as an audio jack.

The Aircell Smartphone also offers the best voice quality in aviation, claims the company. However, Aircell offered no more details on the "embedded technologies and design features" behind this claim. 

Although relatively average compared to today's smartphones, the 3.8-inch size is said to be larger than all other aviation phones. That may be true among business aircraft phones, but Thales announced an Android-based 3.8-inch phone (right) for the commercial aviation market back in September.

The Thales TouchPMU phone is built on an ARM Cortex processor and designed to be both a stand-alone media access handheld device and a controller for Thales' seat-display TopSeries in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) systems. At the time, Panasonic also said it was developing an Android-based IFEC phone.

The Aircell Smartphone will be backward-compatible with all Aircell Axxess communications systems currently in production, says the company. It will also be available as a drop-in replacement for the company's tethered Aircell Axxess Flush-Mount Handset (pictured), making it easier for aircraft manufacturers to upgrade.

The new Android handset will also be compatible with the company's forthcoming Gogo Biz Voice service via Aircell's ATG 4000 and ATG 5000 systems. Also announced this week, Gogo Biz Voice is based on Aircell's Gogo Wi-Fi hotspot service for commercial airplanes.

The high bandwidth and very low latency of the Gogo Biz Voice technology will enable a high level of voice quality and clarity, says Aircell. The service will also support several simultaneous voice calls and Internet sessions, while preserving this quality, says the company. 

The Aircell Smartphone phone is said to be "fully certified," presumably complying with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations. Aircell is said to be the only U.S. company authorized by the FCC and FAA to use frequencies in the 800MHz band for inflight communications. Aircell also successfully bid $31.3 million for EV-DO-ready 3MHz air-to-ground spectrum in an FCC auction in June 2006.

Stated John Wade, Aircell's Executive vice president & general manager, Business Aviation Services, "The Aircell Smartphone epitomizes the notion of next-generation inflight communications. It gives passengers exactly what they want — the best-sounding, best-looking and easiest-to-use handset in aviation."


Shipments of the Aircell Smartphone are scheduled to begin in late 2011, and pricing will be announced prior to that time, says Aircell. More information should eventually appear at the Aircell site.

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