Verizon iPhone in-flight mobile connectivity #FAIL

“As a long term Verizon customer, I was glad to hear the iPhone was coming. However since I travel worldwide I called Verizon support to find out exactly what the issues would be internationally. The support person confirmed that the iPhone will not support GSM. Ouch! This means that I will have to wait for a newer version of the iPhone as there is no getting around that without GSM, you can’t use it most countries”…Comment from Tim on EverythingiCafe

I feel Tim’s pain. As a long-disgruntled AT&T customer (AT&T could try the patience of a saint), I too waited with bated breath for Verizon to finally reach agreement with Apple for the iPhone. And I too was disappointed to learn that the initial Verizon iPhone is not at the very least a hybrid CDMA/GSM solution. It only supports CDMA, the dominant network standard for North America and parts of Asia, but not GSM-happy Europe, and certainly not in-flight mobile connectivity currently on offer.

Go to minute 2:10 of the following video for a clear explanation (nice scarf):

AeroMobile and OnAir, the two main providers of in-flight mobile connectivity, emulate local GSM networks inside aircraft. As such, travelers with Verizon CDMA iPhones will not be able to use mobile connectivity on aircraft operated by a growing number of international carriers (in addition to a raft of other places).

I know the issue of in-flight mobile connectivity in the United States is thorny (see MSNBC’s “Shut Up and Fly” piece, where yours truly is quoted). However, it was none other than Qualcomm and American Airlines that laid the groundwork for in-flight voice communications using commercially available CDMA cell phones way back in 2004 (at a time when it appeared the USA was actually going to act sensibly about mobile connectivity, and drop the long-standing ban). Don’t believe me? See my ATI article below from 15 July 2004.

Key par:

He [an American spokesman] says American is “interested in anything that could provide cell phones, text messaging, or the Internet or anything that could provide entertainment”, but notes the airline is “not tied to Qualcomm”, one of several companies seeking to facilitate cellular phone use inflight.

Meanwhile, as I lament Verizon’s CDMA-based iPhone, I can comfort myself with the knowledge that the next iPhone 5 might support both CDMA and GSM, thanks to a dual mode Qualcomm chipset (naturally).

American tests Qualcomm’s inflight cellular technology

Mary Kirby, Washington DC (15Jul04, 21:45 GMT, 239 words)


American Airlines today conducted an airborne demonstration of technology that allows inflight use of mobile cellular telephones.

The carrier tested Qualcomm’s mobile phone technology onboard a Boeing MD-80 circling over Dallas, Texas.

Qualcomm used an in-cabin third generation pico cell installed on the aircraft to facilitate the test. Pico cell technology is one widely proposed path for ensuring there is no interference from mobile phones with onboard avionics.

An American spokesman says that during the “proof of concept flight”, government representatives and media successfully made air-to-ground calls using a standard CDMA mobile phone.

American is keen to offer passengers the ability to use their own cellular telephones and two-way pagers inflight. “We want to be close to the leading edge of this technology…because we think this is something that is important to our customers,” says the spokesman.

He says American is “interested in anything that could provide cell phones, text messaging, or the Internet or anything that could provide entertainment”, but notes the airline is “not tied to Qualcomm”, one of several companies seeking to facilitate cellular phone use inflight.

Looking forward, American believes that passengers will be able to use their cellular phones during flight in about two years, once regulatory issues are ironed out.

Current federal regulations and airline require cellular phones to be turned off while the aircraft is airborne, in large part due to concerns that they would interfere with aircraft communication and navigation systems.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news

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5 Responses to Verizon iPhone in-flight mobile connectivity #FAIL

  1. Byron January 24, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    I mean, I would imagine that in flight wifi will become more prevalent more quickly than in flight cell, and i’m sure by that time, VOIP and being able to switch between cell and wifi will be much more popular. The lack of CDMA might not be such a pain point in that case.

  2. Taylor Michie January 24, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    Starting off maybe on an unrelated tangent, I may be the only iPhone customer who actually doesn’t have any issues with AT&T … I don’t love them, but I certainly don’t have any major issues with them.

    The AA piece bothers me; I feel that they have their priorities skewed. AA probably has the most outdated fleet in all of North America. Their 777s are the only planes in their fleet with AVOD in coach, and that is a bummer (to me). I’d rather see them update their fleet (or at the very least their longhaul fleet) with AVOD in coach before they spend the money trying to retrofit existing (and old) aircraft with devices that allow you to talk on the phone inflight.

    (Going back, I see now that that piece was written in ’04, but still: AA loses my business as a TATL coach pax because that flight seems like an extremely uncomfortable one to me).

  3. TheePieMan January 25, 2011 at 7:03 am #

    With the iPhone4-CDMA, VZW is counting on a combination of VZW customers who have been waiting for the iPhone & those who have been wanting to leave AT&T’s network and don’t have a need to travel out of country.

    Last night I saw the first Apple Commercial for the iPhone4 on both the AT&T and VZW networks.

    ***Personal Speculation***
    Within 6 months, we’ll see Apple make the announcement for the iPhone5 on both AT&T & VZW networks. They’ll have a same day general release so neither carrier has an advantage over the other.

    Both carriers will also likely offer existing customers the chance to pre-order a week early as VZW is doing with their existing customer base for the iP4 on 03FEB11.

  4. Anthony January 25, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    Yes, while the Verizon iPhone is not a global solution, there are several nice Verizon global-ready Android phones now. Droid Pro, Droid 2 Global, etc…

    I know it’s not the same, but these are some very capable phones which work almost everywhere in the world *and* still benefit from Verizon’s superior domestic connectivity.

    LTE phones have the potential to make the issue of worrying about CDMA/GSM a thing of the past, but the cell carriers have not yet clarified exactly how it will work for the average consumer (or at least I haven’t seen this information yet).

  5. Como Rastrear Um Celular July 28, 2013 at 7:36 am #

    Since the Android contains all these built-in features it gives more flexibility
    to the developers. Mobile communications have spread like wildfire over the
    last 10 years. Keeping a few gigabytes of spare space on your i-Pad is a good idea.

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