Federal Communications Commission
Washington, D.C. 20554
In the Matter of
Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard Aircraft
WT Docket No. 13-301
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
Adopted: December 12, 2013 Released: December 13, 2013
Comment Date: (30 days after date of publication in the Federal Register)
Reply Comment Date: (60 days after date of publication in the Federal Register)
By the Commission: Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn issuing separate statements; Commissioner Rosenworcel concurring and issuing a statement; Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly dissenting and issuing separate statements.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Heading Paragraph #
I. introduction and Summary 1
II. background 5
A. FCC Regulations Limiting Airborne Mobile Use 5
B. 2004 Airborne Mobile NPRM 8
C. International Developments 11
D. Current FCC Authorization of Airborne Broadband Access 16
E. Other Federal Government Actions 20
III. discussion 22
A. Changes to Current Rules Restricting Airborne Mobile Broadband Use 27
B. Airborne Access Systems 29
1. Potential Harmful Interference from Uncontrolled Airborne Mobile Devices 29
2. Benefits of Airborne Access Systems 30
3. Technical Requirements 32
a. Mobile Device 34
b. Aircraft Picocell 36
c. Network Control Unit 37
C. Airborne Commercial Mobile Use 42
1 Part 87 Authorization Methodology 43
a. Part 87 Aircraft License Modification 43
b. Alternative Authorization Methods 48
2. Scope of the Authorization 54
3. Other Authorization and Licensing Issues 57
4. Applicability to Non-U.S.-Registered Aircraft Operating in U.S. Airspace 64
D. Other issues 70
1. Service below 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) 70
2. Voice Service Onboard Aircraft 72
3. Agreements with Canada and Mexico 74
4. Law Enforcement and Public Safety 75
IV. conclusion 78
V. procedural matters 79
A. Filing Requirements 79
B. Ex Parte Rules 81
C. Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis 82
D. Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 83
VI. ordering clauses 84
APPENDIX A - Proposed Rules
APPENDIX B - Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis
introduction and Summary
By this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Notice), we propose to revise outdated rules and adopt consistent new rules governing mobile communications services aboard airborne aircraft. These rule changes would give airlines, subject to applicable Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Transportation (DoT) rules, the choice of whether to enable mobile communications services using an Airborne Access System and, if so, which specific services to enable. The draft rules would also replace an existing patchwork of regulatory prohibitions on airborne use of mobile services in some, but not all, of the heavily used mobile bands with a consistent regulatory framework that explicitly forbids airborne use of mobile services in those bands unless they are operating on an aircraft equipped with an Airborne Access System. If adopted, the rule changes would reduce consumer confusion, increase protection against harmful interference, improve administrative efficiency, and facilitate expanded access to broadband services in flight. Additionally, while many airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi broadband services, the proposals in this Notice would give airlines the option to allow consumers to access broadband services when airborne through their existing wireless service providers, just as they would on the ground. The Notice does not propose to mandate that airlines permit any new airborne mobile services. It does, however, provide a path for interested airlines to authorize increased consumer access to airborne mobile broadband services across licensed commercial mobile spectrum bands in a safe, non-interfering manner.
In recent years, air carriers have been enhancing their in-flight communications service offerings to meet the increasing consumer demand for broadband connectivity on aircraft. One study predicts that the number of aircraft offering wireless connectivity will reach 4,048 by the end of 2013 (representing 21 percent of the global fleet), and will rise to 14,000 by 2022 (a 50 percent connectivity penetration in commercial aircraft).1 This study also projects that approximately 5,000 of these aircraft will offer both Wi-Fi and cellular options.2 According to one survey of adult airline passengers, 69 percent of airline passengers that brought a portable electronic device (PED) – such as a tablet or smartphone – onto an aircraft in the past 12 months reported that they used their devices during flight.3 The report did not distinguish between transmitting PEDs and non-transmitting PEDs. Also, notably, in October 2013, the FAA announced that, after performing recommended assessments and tests, airlines could safely expand passenger use of PEDs during all phases of flight.4
Internationally, more than forty jurisdictions, including the European Union (EU), Asia, and Australia, have authorized the use of mobile communications services on aircraft. To the best of our knowledge, these services have successfully operated without causing harmful interference to terrestrial commercial wireless networks.5 Given the rapidly expanding demand for mobile broadband services, our recent efforts to improve consumers’ access to broadband services on aircraft,6 and the successful deployment of mobile communications services on aircraft in numerous other countries, we find that it is in the public interest to bring the benefits of mobile communications services on aircraft to domestic consumers. Specifically, we propose to:
Remove existing, narrow restrictions on airborne use of mobile devices in the 800 MHz cellular and Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) bands, replacing them with a more comprehensive framework encompassing access to mobile communications services in all mobile wireless bands;7
Harmonize regulations governing the operation of mobile devices on airborne aircraft across all commercial mobile spectrum bands;8
Add the authority to provide mobile communications services on airborne aircraft across all commercial mobile spectrum bands to existing Part 87 aircraft station licenses;9
Allow mobile communications services on airborne aircraft only if managed by an Airborne Access System certified by the FAA, which would control the emissions of onboard PEDs by requiring them to remain at or near their lowest transmitting power level;10
Limit authorization for mobile communications services to aircraft travelling at altitudes of more than 3,048 meters (approximately 10,000 feet) above the ground;
We also seek comment on alternative authorization frameworks, the potential impact of these proposals on public safety and national security, and issues related to the use of voice services onboard aircraft.
Consistent with our continued efforts to increase consumer access to broadband and the FAA’s recent actions, this proposal would provide airlines with the technological tools to offer additional in-cabin communications services to their passengers at their discretion. Our proposal is focused on data services, but it is technology-neutral; we do not propose to limit the use of mobile communications services on airborne aircraft to non-voice applications. Deployment of such services, including etiquette and other rules, would be at the discretion of individual airlines, within the context of any rules or guidelines established by the FAA or DoT.11
FCC Regulations Limiting Airborne Mobile Use
Commission rules governing the use of airborne mobile devices vary significantly among services. Specifically, airborne use of the 800 MHz cellular band is prohibited and airborne use of the 800 MHz SMR band is prohibited on aircraft that typically fly at altitudes over one mile.1 There are no such restrictions on airborne use of the AWS, PCS, WCS, 700 MHz, or AWS-4 bands.2 As noted above resolving these inconsistencies is one of the primary goals of this proceeding.
Part 22 of the Commission’s rules prohibits the airborne use of 800 MHz cellular telephones, including the use of such phones on commercial and private aircraft.3 This prohibition was adopted in 1991 to guard against the threat of harmful interference from airborne use of cellular phones to terrestrial cellular networks.4 The Commission’s prohibition was not to ensure interference-free operation of avionics equipment. When the prohibition was adopted, the Commission noted that a cellular telephone used onboard an airborne aircraft would have greater range than a land-based handset, and its signal would be received by multiple terrestrial cell sites in a given market, causing harmful interference.5 Moreover, the Commission found that because a cellular telephone can transmit on all assigned 800 MHz cellular frequencies, a single handset could interfere with cellular systems in multiple cellular market areas simultaneously.6 Thus, the Commission concluded that “the need for noninterference in all cellular transmissions outweighs the benefits that would be realized by allowing the public to use cellular service in airborne aircraft.”7
Similarly, the Part 90 rules restrict the use of SMR handsets while airborne in certain circumstances.8 The altitude restriction in section 90.423 prohibits operations on aircraft that are regularly flown at altitudes at one mile or above and, consequently, essentially bans Part 90 land mobile radio use on commercial airline flights.9 These rules were enacted to prevent harmful interference with land-based operations by the use of land mobile frequencies aboard high-flying aircraft, especially aircraft operated by scheduled passenger airlines.10 The rules governing all other commercial mobile spectrum bands are silent with regard to airborne operations.
On December 15, 2004, the Commission adopted the Airborne Mobile NPRM, in which it proposed to relax or replace the Part 22 and Part 90 restrictions on airborne use of cellular mobile handsets.11 The Airborne Mobile NPRM also included several proposals to facilitate the use of wireless devices onboard airborne aircraft, including those used for broadband applications.12 Overall, the proposals were intended “to minimize the potential for harmful interference to terrestrial systems while providing maximum flexibility to wireless telecommunications carriers seeking to address consumer demand for air-ground connectivity.”13
Notably, the Airborne Mobile NPRM proposed to require onboard use of picocells to prevent harmful interference to terrestrial mobile networks.14 Under this proposal, airborne picocells would have been used to manage the power levels of mobile handsets onboard aircraft to ensure that they operated at or near their minimum power levels.15 The Airborne Mobile NPRM also sought comment on whether this proposal should be applied to only the 800 MHz cellular spectrum covered by the current Part 22 rule, or whether the picocell requirement should be expanded to include handsets and devices operating on spectrum bands under Part 24, 27, or 90.16
The Commission received more than 8,000 submissions in the docket.17 However, few of the commenters provided requested technical analyses. Citing the insufficiency of the technical record and finding that it would be premature to decide the issues presented in the Airborne Mobile NPRM without additional information, the Commission terminated the proceeding on March 28, 2007.18 The Commission, however, left open the possibility of revisiting the issues raised in this proceeding, should new technical information become available.19
Since the Commission issued the Airborne Mobile Termination Order in 2007, numerous foreign communications administrations have issued regulations that have successfully allowed the non-interfering use of mobile communications services on airborne aircraft utilizing Airborne Access Systems.20
Most notably, in 2008, the European Commission (EC) mandated that EU member countries allocate the 1800 MHz band, which utilizes Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM)21 technology, above 3,000 meters for mobile communications onboard aircraft (MCA).22 The EC issued its Decision following a Report23 and a Decision24 from the Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) of the EU’s European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT).25 CEPT MCA Report 16 found that operating an Airborne Access System-based mobile communications system above 3,000 meters above ground level26 prevents harmful interference to ground-based mobile networks (in all studied bands27 in which the onboard mobile terminals would be capable of transmitting).28
Pursuant to the EC Decision, the communications administrations of all twenty-seven EU member states subsequently created licensing mechanisms for airborne mobile services in their individual jurisdictions.29 On November 14, 2013, the EC issued a new decision modifying the existing EC Decision in order to allow for additional frequency ranges and technologies, such as UMTS and LTE, to be used in aircraft.30 Prior to this Decision, CEPT issued a Report on the technical aspects of adding these new frequencies and technologies.31
Outside of the United States, two third-party providers, OnAir and AeroMobile Communications Ltd. (AeroMobile), currently offer mobile communications services on airborne aircraft.32 OnAir provides such third-party services to airlines including British Airways, Emirates, and Royal Jordanian,33 while AeroMobile provides such third-party services to airlines including Emirates, SAS, and Virgin Atlantic.34 According to OnAir, approximately eighty countries across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia Pacific, North America, and Latin America have authorized the use of its service.35 As of May 2012, at least one foreign air carrier, Virgin Atlantic, has installed and is operating a system to provide mobile communications services on some aircraft on transatlantic flights from the United Kingdom to the United States.36
We are not aware of any reported cases of harmful interference to terrestrial systems stemming from the use of Airborne Access Systems since airlines began offering mobile communications services on airborne aircraft. In response to an FAA inquiry regarding the use of PEDs during flight,37 Panasonic stated that since deployment of the eXPhone system38 – a system for providing mobile communications services on aircraft – there has been no harmful interference to aircraft systems or terrestrial networks, nor have there been any system failures.39 In comments filed by AeroMobile in the same proceeding, AeroMobile stated that it has operated its Airborne Access Systems since 2008 “without any reported instances of harmful interference to avionics or other aircraft systems, or to terrestrial mobile networks.”40
Current FCC Authorization of Airborne Broadband Access
The Commission first paved the way for in-flight voice and data services in 1990 when it allocated four megahertz of spectrum for commercial Air-Ground Radiotelephone Service.41 This led to the deployment of service offered via seat-back phones in many commercial aircraft. Additionally, in 1998, the Commission granted to AirCell, Inc. (AirCell) a waiver of section 22.925’s airborne cellular prohibition to allow AirCell to use cellular frequencies for in-flight communication using specially designed equipment.42 In 2005, the Commission reconfigured the 800 MHz Air-Ground Radiotelephone Service to facilitate the provision of broadband service to passengers aboard aircraft.43 After that, companies began to offer Wi-Fi using unlicensed spectrum on aircraft along with an air-to-ground link.44
In addition to the 800 MHz Air-Ground band, satellite spectrum also has been used as an air-to-ground link. The L-band Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) has been used to provide data service to and from aircraft since the 1990s. Beginning in 2001, the Commission authorized, on an ad hoc basis, the use of earth stations aboard aircraft (ESAA) communicating with Ku-band geosynchronous orbit (GSO) Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) space stations to provide connectivity to airborne aircraft.45 In December 2012, the Commission adopted service and technical rules for ESAA operations to formalize ESAA as a means of providing in-flight broadband services to passengers and flight crews aboard commercial airliners and private aircraft (in conjunction with in-cabin Wi-Fi).46
The Commission recently has taken further action to expand access to broadband services onboard aircraft and improve the quality of services offered. Notably, on March 29, 2013, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) granted Gogo’s request of a waiver of section 22.85347 of the Commission’s rules to allow the assignment of one megahertz of LiveTV Inc.’s licensed nationwide 800 MHz Air-Ground Radiotelephone Service license to Gogo.48 Gogo now has access to all four megahertz of nationwide 800 MHz Air-Ground spectrum, which Gogo asserts is necessary to provide the full array of high-speed wireless communications services that consumers expect.49
The Commission also has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes to establish a new air-ground mobile broadband service in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band.50 The new service will operate on a secondary, non-interference basis with FSS Earth-to-space communications.51 If the rules proposed in that proceeding are adopted, the new service would significantly increase the capacity available to aircraft for broadband backhaul.
Other Federal Government Actions
In January 2013, the FAA Administrator established the PED Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) in order to provide a forum for the U.S. aviation community and PED manufacturers to review comments received from the FAA’s Notice of Policy/Request for Comments regarding PED policy and guidance.52 The ARC was tasked to make recommendations to further clarify and provide guidance on allowing additional passenger PED usage without compromising the continued safe operation of the aircraft.53 The ARC transmitted its report to the FAA Administrator on September 30, 2013, and the FAA released the report publicly on October 31, 2013.54
The ARC concluded that most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference signals from PEDs. However, PEDs with cellular capabilities must disable those capabilities during flight. The ARC recommended that, subject to this condition, PEDs be permitted to operate “gate-to-gate” provided that the airline operators and aircraft manufacturers certify their aircraft to demonstrate “tolerance” of emissions from PEDs.55 While cell phones were excluded from the scope of the ARC Report, the ARC did recommend that the FAA consult with the Commission to review our current rules.56 On October 31, 2013, the FAA announced that, based on the ARC Report, it had determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of PEDs during all phases of flight and provided airlines with implementation guidelines.57
In the six years since the Commission issued the Airborne Mobile Termination Order, the mobile communications landscape has undergone a series of dramatic changes. Global mobile data traffic increased by 70 percent from 2011 to 20121 and, driven by widespread adoption of smartphones, tablets, and other high data use devices, it is projected to increase thirteen-fold by 2017.2 Consumers are ever more dependent on reliable high speed connectivity for these devices for personal communications, business, and entertainment. Moreover, as noted, numerous international administrations have adopted rules for the safe, non-interfering use of mobile services on airborne aircraft utilizing Airborne Access Systems.3 The successful widespread international adoption of these systems demonstrates the technical viability of mobile communications services on airborne aircraft today.
In light of the increasing demand for mobile communications services on airborne aircraft and widespread confirmation of its technical viability, we propose to revise our rules to enable domestic and international travelers to access mobile services onboard aircraft flying in U.S. airspace. To that end, we propose to: (1) remove existing Commission restrictions on airborne use of mobile devices in the 800 MHz cellular and 800 MHz SMR bands;4 (2) harmonize regulations governing the operation of mobile devices on airborne aircraft across all commercial mobile spectrum bands; and (3) implement a comprehensive licensing and regulatory framework to facilitate access to mobile communications services on aircraft. These proposals are consistent with our longstanding commitment to facilitate universal broadband access, promote investment and innovation, and encourage efficient, flexible use of spectrum. We seek comment on these proposals.
The proposals in this Notice would also require airlines to install Airborne Access Systems if they choose to provide mobile communications services on airborne aircraft. As described below, the Airborne Access System incorporates hardware and software to enable the provision of service and to manage services onboard the aircraft. In practice, the system would connect wireless devices on the aircraft operating on licensed wireless frequencies to a terrestrial network via satellite or air-ground links. While business models may vary, under one model, passengers on a flight with an Airborne Access System would be able to access the wireless service to which they subscribe when above 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) through the Airborne Access System, and would be billed for the service directly by their service provider.5
In this Notice, we also seek comment on the alternative licensing and regulatory frameworks for the provision of mobile communications services on airborne aircraft, the potential impact of these proposals on public safety and national security, and any potential operational issues related to the use of mobile services, including voice, onboard aircraft. We are committed to working closely with other federal agencies that have expertise and may have more appropriate jurisdiction over some of these operational areas.
Throughout the Notice, where we seek comment on the costs and benefits of a proposal, we ask that commenters take into account costs and benefits that result from the implementation of the particular rules that could be adopted, including any proposed requirement or potential alternative requirement. Further, to the extent possible, commenters should provide specific data and information, such as actual or estimated dollar figures for each specific cost or benefit addressed, including a description of how the data or information was calculated or obtained, and any supporting documentation or other evidentiary support.
Changes to Current Rules Restricting Airborne Mobile Broadband Use
As an initial matter, we propose to remove or modify the current restrictions on airborne mobile operations in Parts 22 and 90 of the Commission’s rules.6 We propose to replace these restrictions with references to a revised authorization regime under Part 87 of the Commission’s rules that would allow aircraft station licensees to provide mobile communications services using an Airborne Access System.7 We seek comment on whether, in light of the proposals set forth herein and recent technological advances, these restrictions remain necessary to prevent harmful interference to terrestrial mobile networks.
We also propose to add cross references to the new Part 87 airborne mobile service authorization to Parts 22, 24, 27, and 90 as set forth in Appendix A.8 We propose to make the rules governing airborne mobile service consistent across all commercial mobile spectrum bands, thereby reducing confusion, improving administrative efficiency, and promoting Airborne Access System measures that will permit the provision of mobile communications services on aircraft across all commercial mobile spectrum bands. We seek comment on these proposals. Parties that oppose the removal of the extant bans or the harmonization of airborne mobile access rules should provide detailed technical and legal analyses to support their positions.
Airborne Access Systems
Potential Harmful Interference from Uncontrolled Airborne Mobile Devices
Mobile devices typically connect to a wireless network through the nearest cell site that can serve the device. As the distance between the devices and cell sites increases, signals are attenuated by terrain and obstacles such as buildings, and blocked by the curvature of the earth. However, an uncontrolled wireless device on an airborne aircraft could potentially cause co-channel interference at multiple cell sites.9 This is because, even though the airborne wireless signal becomes weaker with increasing height above the ground, unlike the terrestrial case, it is not attenuated by terrain and obstacles, and it is not affected by the curvature of the earth. Thus, the signal from an airborne handset with an unobstructed line of sight may remain sufficiently strong as the device attempts to access multiple terrestrial sites, causing harmful interference or other undesirable effects to terrestrial systems. We concur with the conclusions in the CEPT MCA Reports that interactions between mobile terminals onboard aircraft and terrestrial mobile networks are possible unless managed properly.10 Unmanaged airborne mobile devices will attempt to connect and in some cases will succeed in temporarily connecting to a terrestrial system, causing harmful interference and disruption to the system it is connected to and to surrounding systems.11
Benefits of Airborne Access Systems
As set forth above, the current Part 22 and Part 90 prohibitions on mobile communications services on aircraft were designed to guard against the threat of harmful interference from airborne use of mobile devices to terrestrial wireless networks.12 Airborne Access Systems are used to minimize the potential for airborne wireless devices interfering with terrestrial networks. The most common Airborne Access System in use internationally today consists of an airborne picocell and a network control unit (NCU).13 In effect, an airborne picocell is a low power base station transceiver installed in the aircraft for the purpose of communicating with (and controlling the operations of) mobile handsets or other transmitting electronic devices onboard an aircraft. As illustrated in Figure A below, the picocell controls the power levels of all transmitting mobile broadband devices operating onboard aircraft, keeping them at or near their minimum output power. A picocell is analogous to an in-building distributed antenna system (like those used in large buildings, malls, etc.) for use in the aircraft. The signal travels from the handset to the picocell, which then relays the call to the ground via a separate air-ground link, e.g., via a satellite band or the 800 MHz Air-Ground band, after which it can be transferred to the terrestrial network.14 In addition, the NCU raises the noise floor within the cabin to prevent devices from attempting to communicate with terrestrial networks.15 Under the rules proposed below, terrestrial service providers and aircraft station licensees would be permitted to negotiate commercial agreements to facilitate access to terrestrial networks.16 We note that for the Airborne Access Systems to effectively prevent cell phones that have the capability to operate outside the network from attempting to communicate with terrestrial networks and prevent potential interference to avionics, the noise floor likely would have to be raised onboard aircraft in all commercial mobile spectrum bands. We seek comment on whether airline passengers would be capable of accessing broadband services onboard aircraft over commercial mobile spectrum bands absent an agreement between their terrestrial mobile service provider and the aircraft station licensee.
Used in this manner, Airborne Access Systems appear to be an effective means of providing airline passengers with mobile broadband connectivity, while preventing harmful interference to terrestrial wireless networks. Indeed, as noted above, Airborne Access Systems are used to provide mobile broadband connectivity on flights in Europe and Asia.17 To date, we are unaware of any instances of harmful interference to terrestrial systems resulting from the use of PEDs in conjunction with an Airborne Access System on airborne aircraft.18 While these international systems primarily utilize GSM technology,19 such use also is now permissible with other mobile technologies such as CDMA and LTE.20 We seek comment on the use of non-GSM mobile technologies onboard aircraft and ask commenters to submit technical analyses and studies to support their arguments. We also seek comment on whether the potential for harmful interference to terrestrial networks could vary depending on how heavily Airborne Access Systems are used. Further, while we believe that airborne picocells are a proven technology and could be used as effective Airborne Access Systems on domestic flights, consistent with our commitment to technological neutrality, we propose to permit any type of Airborne Access System that meets the technical requirements set forth in the rules and any applicable rules and approval procedures required by the FAA.
Based on the available research and international practices, we tentatively conclude that Airborne Access Systems can be used to facilitate airborne mobile broadband access without causing harmful interference to terrestrial networks. We therefore propose to allow airborne use of mobile devices controlled by a properly managed Airborne Access System.
Our review of existing operations reveals that, for an Airborne Access System to effectively manage emissions from mobile broadband-capable devices, certain technical restrictions must be enforced. Specifically, three types of devices transmitting aboard the aircraft must be limited in power to prevent harmful interference to terrestrial networks: (1) the mobile device; (2) the picocell; and (3) the NCU. Measures that may be taken to limit power include, but are not necessarily limited to, mobile power restrictions, aircraft picocell power restrictions, NCU power and/or technology limitations, altitude restrictions, and methods to prevent an airborne mobile phone from accessing the terrestrial CMRS network. We use the technical analyses and conclusions released by CEPT earlier this year on these matters as a baseline for our technical inquiries.21 We note that this report focused only on European commercial mobile spectrum bands, and believe that CEPT’s findings are a solid foundation on which we can adopt technical requirements. We seek comments on this belief, as well as on the potential implications of the use of different spectrum bands in the United States. Are there any differences between the commercial mobile spectrum bands used in the EU and those used in the United States that would affect the relevant CEPT findings? We also ask commenters to provide us with any tests or technical analyses that have been performed regarding the use of Airborne Access Systems over commercial mobile spectrum bands in use in the United States. We note that the international systems appear to offer service only in a particular frequency band or bands. Should Airborne Access Systems be permitted to operate only in particular frequency bands? If so, which bands and what impact might this have on competition?
Unmanaged airborne PEDs will attempt to connect and in some cases will succeed in temporarily connecting to a terrestrial system, causing harmful interference and disruption to the system it is connected to and to surrounding systems.22 Thus, airborne mobile devices must be operated at sufficiently low power levels to prevent harmful interference with terrestrial broadband networks while still being able to communicate with the Airborne Access System.
CEPT MCA Report 48 concluded that an Airborne Access System would not interfere with terrestrial networks provided it met certain technical criteria.23 It defined acceptable radiation from various sources for a point outside the aircraft at various altitudes. At 3,000 meters (approximately 9,842 feet), the report specifies an aggregate effective isotropic radiated power (EIRP) of 3.1 dBm/3.84 megahertz outside the aircraft for up to 20 individual mobile UMTS devices limited to -6 dBm/3.84 megahertz.24 The report also specifies a limit of 1.7 dBm/5 megahertz for individual LTE devices transmitting at 5 dBm/5 megahertz at 3,000 meters.25 Because the analysis in CEPT MCA Report 48 is limited to frequency bands utilized within the EU, we request comment on whether the same findings are applicable to systems operating on bands used for commercial mobile radio services in the United States and whether any adjustments to CEPT MCA Report 48’s findings or methods should be made.26 We encourage commenters to submit relevant data and studies pertaining to bands used for commercial mobile radio services in the United States. What, if any, adjustments to these assumptions must be made for other mobile technologies? We also request comment on whether it is necessary to limit the number of mobiles in operation, or if an aggregate limit for emissions from the aircraft is sufficient to protect terrestrial systems from harmful interference. Is such an approach practical? Should the rules require the Airborne Access System to limit the maximum in-cabin transmit power of individual mobile units rather than specifying the allowable aggregate EIRP outside the aircraft? Commenters should include technical analyses to support their proposals, including the costs and benefits of adopting a particular approach.
The aircraft picocell communicates with the individual mobile devices onboard the aircraft and with its air-to-ground or satellite backhaul link.27 The power of onboard picocells must be limited to prevent harmful interference to the terrestrial network. CEPT MCA Report 48 limits the EIRP outside the aircraft from picocell transmissions to 1.0 dBm/3.84 megahertz for UMTS and 1.0 dBm/megahertz for LTE.28 We request comment on whether these levels are appropriate and can be applied to operations on U.S. commercial mobile spectrum bands. We also encourage commenters to submit relevant data and studies pertaining to bands used for commercial mobile radio services in the United States. What would be an appropriate method of making measurements or otherwise determining compliance? How should the Commission approach equipment authorization of picocells given that compliance would be determined by the aircraft in which the system is installed? We also request comment on whether we should limit the type of technology utilized for communications between the picocell and onboard mobiles to minimize the risk of harmful interference with terrestrial networks. We note that in its initial report, CEPT limited its analysis of communication services aboard aircraft to picocells operating with GSM technology29 but its more recent report offers expanded analysis on both UMTS and LTE.30 From an interference standpoint, are some technologies used on airborne aircraft less likely to cause harmful interference to terrestrial networks than others?
Network Control Unit
The NCU prevents mobile devices from connecting to the terrestrial network while on the aircraft. Uncontrolled, some mobile devices are capable of contacting terrestrial networks, even at altitudes exceeding 3,048 meters (10,000 feet).31 The NCU raises the noise floor within the aircraft cabin to prevent onboard mobile devices from communicating with the terrestrial network.32 NCUs also must be limited in power to prevent harmful interference to terrestrial networks. CEPT MCA Report 48 specifies for operations in the 2600 MHz (2500-2570 MHz and 2620-2690 MHz) band a limit at 3000 meters of 1.9 dBm/4.75 megahertz and for operations in the 800 MHz (790-862 MHz) band the limit is ‑0.87 dBm/10 megahertz.33 The EC previously established limits for the 460-470 MHz, 921-960 MHz, 1805-1880 MHz, and 2110-2170 MHz bands in its Decision.34 Those findings were reaffirmed by CEPT MCA Report 48.35 We request comment on whether these levels are appropriate and can be applied to operations on domestic mobile spectrum bands. As CEPT MCA Report 48 limits vary by frequency band, which of these limits would be appropriate for each of the bands used for commercial mobile service in the United States? We encourage commenters to submit relevant data and studies pertaining to bands used for commercial mobile radio services in the United States. We also seek comment on whether there are other technical solutions that could prevent an onboard mobile device from accessing the terrestrial network.
We also seek comment generally on CEPT’s findings and technical proposals. We ask that commenters address: (1) whether Airborne Access Systems can effectively prevent harmful interference into terrestrial wireless networks; (2) whether alternative or supplemental technological solutions would be more effective; (3) whether the proposed power levels are appropriate; and (4) what additional technical specifications may be needed to ensure that these systems and airborne mobile broadband devices do not interfere with existing terrestrial networks. We also request comment on any other technical restrictions or requirements that may be necessary to prevent harmful interference to terrestrial CMRS networks or to ensure reliable communications for mobile communications services on aircraft, or whether an alternative technical solution may be more appropriate in the domestic marketplace. Commenters should include technical analyses to support their proposals, including the costs and benefits of adopting a particular approach.
We reiterate that the FAA is responsible for regulations regarding the safety of passengers and crew aboard domestic aircraft. As such, regardless of the ultimate disposition of this proceeding, all elements of the Airborne Access Systems and any permissible airborne mobile devices remain subject to applicable FAA rules. In addition, elements of these systems may be subject to FAA certification, testing, and approval; the FAA has a comprehensive process by which it certifies all aspects of commercial and general aviation aircraft, and any Airborne Access System presumably would be subject to these procedures.36 In addition, in response to the ARC Report, the FAA has adopted procedures to test and certify that aircraft manufactured in the United States are tolerant of PED emissions.37
Although any FAA actions related to the issues in this proceeding are outside the Commission’s scope, in order to fully comprehend this regulatory framework, we seek information regarding any aspect of the FAA’s authority regarding Airborne Access Systems that we should appropriately consider in this proceeding. We reiterate that we are committed to working closely with other federal agencies that have expertise and may have more appropriate jurisdiction in these areas.
Moreover, we note that, within the context of applicable FCC, FAA, and DoT rules, individual airlines will have flexibility to deploy or not deploy mobile communications services on an aircraft-by-aircraft basis. For example, abroad, OnAir and AeroMobile offer airlines the option of selecting which type of mobile communications services they offer,38 and foreign airlines have chosen to offer the mobile communications services in different ways. For example, Ireland’s Aer Lingus allows texting and Internet access using mobile communications but does not allow the use of voice calls in the cabin, while the UK’s Virgin Atlantic offers passengers the option of accessing the Internet, texting, and making voice calls through their mobile communications system.39