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Texting in flight

/ 04:00 AM September 11, 2013

Some friends of tycoon Ramon Ang were puzzled to receive an SMS last week from the San Miguel Corp. and Philippine Airlines president that sounded a lot like a spam text message.

The message from the normally SMS-shy businessman went: “Welcome onboard! Stay connected with PAL iN AiR Wi-Fi and mobile phone services. Standard roaming rates for phone service apply. Enjoy the flight.”

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As it turned out, Ang had decided to act as the main endorser of PAL’s new service (which allows flyers to use high-speed Internet via Wi-Fi and make mobile phone calls and text) by trying out the system for himself—all while flying some 38,000 feet over the North Pacific Ocean, on his way to Canada.

The good news, Ang discovered, was that the PAL iN AiR service worked just as its manufacturers had promised, delivering high-speed Wi-Fi connections, clear voice calls and real-time SMS exchanges to just about anywhere in the world. (Basically, one uses his or her own mobile phone inflight by connecting to an onboard cell site, or mobile devices connected to an onboard Wi-Fi hotspot. So much for the myth that cellular phone signals can disrupt a plane’s vital communications.)

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The Wi-Fi and mobile phone service is installed on PAL’s Boeing 777-300ER aircraft that are used for its flights to Canada, Japan and Australia, but will be phased in progressively on new Airbus A330 mid-range airliners, which the flag carrier ordered last year.

Manufactured by German firm TriaGnoSys, PAL is the first airline in the world to use the system based on specially created hardware called GSMConneX, which is reportedly superior to the old “airphone” system used in some airlines in the 1990s.

Ang said the system was especially useful when one has to make a phone call, send SMS or fire off e-mails that just can’t wait for that long flight to land.

How much does it cost the flyer to use the service? It varies for roaming fees, but data charges start as low as $5 for 30 minutes worth of usage. And the best part of the deal is that PAL is working on a plan that will allow passengers to use the service for the first 15 minutes … for free.—Daxim L.Lucas

Collateral damage

Apart from the obvious consequence of scuttling its acquisition of capital market infrastructure under Philippine Dealing System Holdings Corp., the Philippine Stock Exchange—although not party to the case, but indirectly involved as a shareholder of PDS—may see some backlash from the legal challenge to fixed income platform Philippine Dealing and Exchange Corp.

The case is unnerving for some PSE top guns because it involves Philippine Depository and Trust Co. (PDTC), which acts as custodian and depository not just of fixed income instruments but also of local equities.

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PDTC, an operating unit of PDS, was included as a respondent in the Supreme Court petition filed by two former lawmakers, a former budget secretary and two former national treasurers on allegation that it’s one of the private entities “unduly favored” by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

The petitioners alleged that it was given the permit to operate trust and quasi-banking functions, securities custodianship and securities registry operations in aid of PDEx’s monopolistic platform sans sufficient qualifications.

The PSE’s own clearing house Securities Clearing Corporation of the Philippines (SCCP) earlier bagged a provisional license from the Securities and Exchange Commission to operate as a securities depository but this was shelved when merger talks with PDS were revived. It has still, at least, this back-up plan but while its own depository system is not up and running, the PSE cannot be insulated.

We heard that there were informal efforts from concerned parties—using the proverbial back channel—to implore the petitioners to spare the equities market from this legal battle by dropping PDTC from the list of respondents.—Doris C. Dumlao

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TAGS: Air Transport, Internet, mobile phone, Philippine Airlines (PAL), Philippine Dealing and Exchange Corp., Philippine Dealing System Holdings Corp., Philippine Stock Exchange, SMS, technology
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