Ryanair to offer cell phone, broadband service by late next year.

European low fare airline Ryanair plans to offer cell phone and satellite broadband connections by the second half of next year.

Passengers will be able to call, text and e-mail using their mobile phones, BlackBerrys and Treos at international roaming rates.

The service, developed by OnAir, will be offered on all of Ryanair flights of more than 360 routes serving 23 countries across Europe.

OnAir plans to fit 50 Ryanair aircraft with the service during 2007, with the remainder of the fleet receiving installations in early 2008.

The onboard technology will connect to satellite broadband links and a ground network to be supplied by OnAir's infrastructure partner, Monaco Telecom.

"The revenues generated by onboard mobile telephony will reduce our costs and help us to keep offering the lowest fares in Europe," Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said in a statement.

In the United States, JetBlue Airways and AirCell, a Colorado-based technology firm, are developing plans for similar services after they won air-to-ground spectrum licenses in a June Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction.

JetBlue won 1 MHz of spectrum for $7 million while AirCell captured 3 MHz with a bid of $31.3 million.

Verizon's Airfone, which currently offers air-to-ground telephone service on U.S. flights, dropped out of the bidding early and must vacate the spectrum within two years.

AirCell said its wireless broadband service will allow airline passengers to use their laptops and PDAs while airborne, but voice service remains in doubt.

The FCC currently bans the use of cell phones on airplanes over concerns about interference with terrestrial wireless systems.

The regulatory agency stirred up a minor controversy two years ago when it proposed individual cell phone use on U.S. commercial flights.

The FCC's cell phone plan proposes to permit the use of off-the-shelf wireless handsets as long as the devices operate at their lowest possible power setting.

The airline would connect the cell phone to an onboard pico cell, which would relay the signal to a ground station.

The FCC has not moved on the plan since its proposal in December.

In addition to the FCC, the use of electronic equipment on airlines remains subject to the Federal Aviation Administration's and aircraft operators' rules and practices.

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