Of Wi-Fi, Smartphones, and Airplanes

by Matt Klassen on March 11, 2011

If there’s one thing journalists and bloggers alike feed on, its hyperbole; the ever-present temptation to overstate things just a little bit. Even with titles like, “Do Cellphones Cause Brain Cancer?” the mind of the reader is instantly filled with thoughts of his or her brain turning to mush after an extended call on their new smartphone. It’s how writers sell stories, its how newspapers sell…well, newspapers.

So you can imagine what horrific visions were conjured up when the generally grounded—you’ll have to excuse the pun—aviation blog, FlightGlobal, posted a piece under the vaguely ominous title, “Wi-Fi interference with Honeywell avionics prompts Boeing action.”

Writing on the testing of Aircell’s new Gogo system, effectively a midair passenger Internet system, the by-line would have us believe that wireless signals of any sort interfere with flight systems, putting us all in mortal peril. In fact, for anyone who’s been on an airplane, we’ve been told countless times that such remote connections interfere with an airplane’s flight system. But is it true? Let’s just say things may have been overstated a little.

Let’s get one thing straight. In no way am I saying that the aviation industry is lying to you about interference from your mobile device. If there’s even a remote chance that your phone will crash a plane, you better turn it off.

But clearly wireless signals can’t be all bad, because aviation technology company Aircell is currently testing an in-flight internet system, one that would by necessity connect to the Internet wirelessly. It was during the testing phase of this new aviation Internet technology that the FlightGlobal writer found her muse, as apparently the wireless signal did in fact interfere with some of the vital avionics systems. The truth of it all, however, is much more benign.

For anyone familiar with the consumer products testing process, regardless of whether it’s an airplane or automobile, a phone or a computer, when its being testing for areas of weakness, the firms in charge of testing tend to take things beyond the ordinary.

So it should come as no surprise to hear that turning the testing phase of this Wi-Fi in-flight Internet system, the testers turned up the juice. It was turning testing at “elevated power levels” that the system failure occurred, power levels that no current smartphone, tablet, or laptop could likely imitate.

Is there a point to all this, you ask? Let’s just say that in an age where everything could potentially be harmful (or not, depending on which study you read), where everything could give you cancer or interfere with your children’s brainwaves, it would behove us to take a moment to do our due diligence, to investigate stories that incite worry and panic in an effort to make an reasoned, rational, and informed decision.

In the end we might just find that the big ol’ world isn’t such a scary place after all…unless you live in Libya that is.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

{ 2 trackbacks }

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jordan Richardson March 11, 2011 at 5:49 am

You’d have to admit that our business would be pretty boring if all we did was say things like “Cell Phones May or May Not Cause Cancer – Find Out Yourself, Thanks” or “How Mobile Gaming Probably Has Nothing to Do with You.”

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