‘Practical Techie:’ The airplane cabin as sales office

Written by  //  November 13, 2013  //  Biz Views  //  No comments

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Author Rafael Matos is professor of multimedia at a private university and director of the Caribbean Multimedia Center, a nonprofit media lab focusing on closing the digital divide. Questions should be sent to cccrafael@gmail.com.

Author Rafael Matos is professor of multimedia at a private university and director of the Caribbean Multimedia Center, a nonprofit media lab focusing on closing the digital divide. Questions should be sent to cccrafael@gmail.com.

“Please make a final check that your mobile phone and other electronic devices are switched off before fastening your seatbelt…”

Familiar words. A nuisance for any traveling executive.

Yet, airlines are relaxing use of electronic devices, a boon for business people that fly extensively. Now that they are at it, air carriers should also provide or expand Wi-Fi access during flights.

Business professionals usually have important messages to check before boarding an airplane, send instructions while in flight, read biz reports or put together complex sales plans on laptops while sitting still during a three-hour travel lapse.

BBC news reports say four out of 10 passengers secretly disregard instructions by flight attendants to shut off all e-devices during takeoff or landing. Some simply disobey to go on playing video games or to engage in non-stop social media pursuits, but two in four are enterprisers undertaking crucial communications.

Regulations now state that no electronic devices are allowed below 10,000 feet, because of signal impedance to ground, or to onboard electronic systems. Above that altitude music and laptops are allowed, but not cell phones.

It all seems logical, since gadgets such as cellulars, game consoles, tablets, iPods and the like, all connect to the Internet or to mobile phone networks using electromagnetic waves, that is, microwave radiation. Airplanes are stacked with avionics, short for electronics-based systems such as radar, sensors and navigation devices that might suffer interference, especially in older aircraft.

Anyway, scientific proof and anecdotal evidence combine to make use of gadgets on airplanes unadvisable.

Until now, refined devices have prompted such airlines as Virgin Atlantic and Delta Airlines to liberalize the rules.

“In-flight mobile phone systems such as OnAir and AeroMobile use miniature on-board base stations called picocells which allow devices to transmit at lower power levels,” the BBC reports. These signals then go on a dedicated satellite and mobile communications ensue while inflight.

This is great news for busy entrepreneurs. It has its costs, because of the roaming, but lack of opportune communications will not break a deal. Take-off and landing are still off limits. The Federal Aviation Administration is dealing with this issue but no decision has been made yet.

While we’re at it, remember that international or regional travel can be harrowing on the mobile phone budget.

In the U.S. wireless operators use two main cellular technologies: GSM and CDMA.

GSM, or global system for mobile communications, is used throughout much of the world, including in Europe, Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as much of Asia and the Middle East.  Make sure your phone company has roaming agreements throughout the world, especially for the new tri-band and quad-band phones.

The U.S., Japan and South Korea mostly use CDMA networks. Though there are some technical complexities, GSM carriers may be the best choice for business globetrotters.

Alas, some mobile manufacturers offer “world phones” that have both CDMA and GSM radio signals built in. And more expensive, of course.

Happy trails!

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