FCC Issues Rules on Air-Ground Radiotelephone Service

Stratospheric platforms, such as high-altitude balloons, may be used to provide air-ground radiotelephone services in the 800 MHz air-ground radiotelephone band under an FCC Order on Reconsideration and Report and Order (FCC 05-202) released last week. The Order rejected requests to allow ancillary terrestrial mobile and fixed services on a secondary basis in the band.

The FCC renewed the licenses of Verizon Airfone, the only incumbent in the band, for a non-renewable five-year term and established a transition period for Verizon to reduce its occupied spectrum from four to one megahertz. However, Verizon Airfone must provide a progress report to the FCC on the transition process every six months. The FCC said that if Verizon Airfone or one of its affiliates wins an exclusive 3 MHz license, it would be subject to additional reporting requirements.

For additional information, see the FCC Order on Reconsideration and Report and Order (FCC 05-202) and the Verizon news release Verizon Airfone Makes Progress Toward Providing In-flight Wireless Broadband to U.S. Market.

Many people oppose allowing cell phone use on planes, but Verizon's planned service would support its high-speed wireless Internet service using 1xEV-DO technology. Verizon reports achieving ground-to-air peak data speeds of 2.4 Mbps. While the air-to-ground data rate available to users is likely to be too low for full resolution live video, this technology should allow reporters on planes to send scripts and heavily compressed short video clips from the plane. While the Verizon press release didn't mention it, if the FCC allows the use of "pico-cells" on planes, Blackberry units may also be able to connect to the new service.