A remarkable story caught my eye yesterday. It’s not specifically LTE related but nevertheless I thought I’d flag it, as it’s data related. As reported in depth here by The Next Web, the founder of VoIP app Viber was met at the airport by police after using his app on the in-flight wifi on a Delta Airlines flight in the US. Viber is an smartphone app that lets you make calls, send video or texts to another device that also has it installed – but crucially doesn’t require any login, making it ‘always-on’  It has just launched beta apps for Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry, joining iPhone and Android, so it’s going to get real big, real soon.

It seems Talmon was chatting away when a flight attendant told him that it was against the rules to use VoIP on the air. He immediately ended the call, but when he was told it was against FAA rules he challenged this. Then he was told it was against the terms of service of the GoGo wifi service – which he again disputed. He was then handed an FAA brochure and when he took a picture of this the flight attendant felt he was being difficult, made quite a leap, and informed him that he would be met at the airport by the police. Remarkably, he actually was.

Fortunately the police realised that he had done little wrong and did not charge him.

Talmon states in an email response to comments on The Next Web article that he ended the call immediately when requested and that he was, “very polite, no raising my voice, no cursing, no abuse whatsoever.”

It does seem something of an overreaction by Delta to have called the cops on him. I have an iPhone with Viber installed. I might easily have done the same

Of interest here is that the supplying of an affordable data connection on a flight is what led to this. These services have been available for a while so it’s perhaps surprising that this hasn’t actually happened before. VoLTE will of course be treat voice as data, but it will still require network coverage to operate so that won’t be an issue. However, as more and more people become used to using apps they will realise that they can make calls when they have no network coverage but do have internet access.

The FAA is actually clear that it is not its policy to block VoIP calls but does not have a policy on this, and states clearly:  “This is not an FAA restriction; they are simply responding to the overwhelming majority of their customers, who prefer silent communications to the public nature of Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) calls.”

In fact, Talmon had actually broken the GoGo terms of service. The question is then, why is that restriction there? Is GoGo worried about bandwidth? Presumably it’s fine to watch, or at least try and watch, a YouTube video on GoGo, so a compressed audio only call should not be an issue.

It could be purely a social etiquette issue then – people will not want other barking loudly into their phones in a confined area on a plane. Fair enough. If that’s the case then, then why has the company that runs GoGo introduced a Android smartphone designed specifically for use on its service? That seems a little contradictory.

Clearly it’s still early days for VoIP and the boundaries between safety, social etiquette and commercial concerns still need to be worked out. Let’s hope it can be done soon and hopefully without involving the police.

Comments on: "Voicing our fears over data: the iPhone, the app and the police." (1)

  1. […] etiquette. In May 2012 I wrote about the founder of VoIP app Viber using the app he created to talk via the in-flight Wi-Fi that was available (see above) on the flight. However, the airline attendants believed that data […]

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