After announcing yesterday that smartphones, tablets, and e-readers can finally be used during takeoff and landing within Europe, the European Commission (EC) is today giving airlines permission to deploy 3G and LTE networks on their planes. Until now, certain airlines have allowed passengers, with the EC's blessing, to connect to 2G networks for calls and texts, but attempting to use the internet on such a service was almost impossible.
Despite LTE and advanced 3G networks having the capacity for high-speed data, it's unlikely you'll see blazing speeds from the new networks. In-flight Wi-Fi and data services depend on satellites to connect you to the internet and are generally slow when compared to ground-based communications. Several companies are developing technology that would connect directly to regular LTE networks, bypassing satellites and facilitating a faster connection. The direct connection could also drop the painfully expensive "rest of world" roaming rates users pay when connecting to an in-flight cellular network — you'd be connecting to a regular network, and so should be protected by the European Union's strict roaming regulations.
The EC is quick to point out today's legislation doesn't give you the right to use your phone on European flights. It's up to individual airlines to offer data services, and those that don't are unlikely to change their in-flight rules.