European travelers may soon have a chance to chat away on their own phones while in flight. For the new system to work, planes would be outfitted with small mobile base stations known as pico cells. The cells would be switched off during take-off, and turned on once the planes reach a given altitude, which would be a minimum of 3,000 meters. Phone signals would be routed to the mobile base stations, which would in turn dispatch signals to ground-based networks through a satellite link.
A U.K. regulatory agency has given the system the OK, but no airlines have officially announced plans to adopt it, and it still has to pass a few more administrative and safety tests before proceeding. For one, airlines will need to be sure that the technology doesn't interfere with a plane's navigation or communications systems.
The service will probably be pricier than making a normal call. Hopefully that will dissuade chatty seat-mates from talking for hours on end.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.