With increasing attempts to turn internet access on in the sky, there’s been some concern about people making VoIP calls from airplanes, just as there is a concern over mobile phone use in the sky being too “annoying.” Some of the companies providing internet-in-the-sky have claimed that they would block VoIP calls, but that’s going to be pretty difficult. As we’ve pointed out in the past voice is just data and you can always find a way to disguise the data, such that it won’t be blocked. And, indeed, that seems to be exactly what’s happening. Andy Abramson talks about how he got around AirCell’s VoIP blocking when talking to a friend who was on one of these wired airplanes. There’s always going to be away around those things, so unless Congress really decides to ban all voice calls on phones, why not wait and see if people chatting really is a problem?
There are two points here worth considering:
- VoIP is data and any attempt to block it can be worked around
- Phone calls on planes may not really be a problem
First – saying VoIP is data is (perhaps) the most obvious statement I’ve ever heard. But let’s clarify one thing. Transmitted (by any means, analog, digital or IP) SOUND is DATA. Always has been, always will be. We shouldn’t confuse the fact that it is now on an IP network with some kind of transition to “voice as data”.
The valid point is that because the sound (voice) is being transmitted over an IP network blocking is only as effective as the ability to detect the transmission of sound (voice). If everyone plays be the rules and uses RTP over UDP – it is simple to block. However, there will always be profit in circumnavigating IP blocking technologies – to the extent that there is profit, there will be people willing to create VoIP services that defeat the blocking.
The linked article points out the the reported “hack” is no more than RTP over TCP – which is fairly pedestrian. Imagine when RTP is tunneled over HTTP (I’ve done it) or SSH.
The simple reality is making the network the arbiter of acceptable use is never going to work.
Second, I’m not sure how we got to “people chatting on a plane is a problem”. Not too long ago, every flight seemed to have those air to ground phones in the back of the seat in front of you. People never used them – because the per minute charges were insane. But I’ve been on a flight where someone used that phone… and there was no lynching.
I’m wondering if “no calls via cell or VoIP” on a plane is about social norms and people being rude… or the airline’s inability to charge for it…