Almost four months after Telecom Commission approved recommendations of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for data and voice services in flights over Indian airspace, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) targets to allow this service by October 2018.
In a report, an official of DoT said, “We are in the final stages of in-flight connectivity licence norms and the service option will be given to carriers and telecom companies within two months.”
Further, they said that the commission has mostly followed the telecom regulator’s recommendations to draft the guidelines and after the department clears the plan, it will take another two weeks to get the law ministry’s approval.
At the same time, there have been meetings with both telecom operators and airlines and some players have shown interest in offering the services.
“Once the licences are rolled out, then let the carriers and the telecom companies battle it out on who should take which service,” said the official.
In its recommendations, TRAI has emphasised that Indian and international airlines be allowed to offer voice and data services within India’s airspace, above an altitude of 3,000 metres (about 9,850 feet). It suggested to provide in-flight service connectivity licences at INR 1 annually.
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The Telecom Commission had approved TRAI’s recommendations except for that to allow foreign satellites and gateways to provide connectivity in aircraft.
The DoT official also said that Indian carriers have shown interest in offering Internet on board as that could become a source of ancillary revenue and bring them on a par with international airlines.
Views Of Stakeholders For In-flight Connectivity
“While international carriers offer Internet on board, Indian carriers cannot offer that facility,” said an executive at an Indian airline.
Even though there is no immediate clarity on pricing of such services, it is being speculated that the rates could be much higher than the rates for mobile services on the ground because of initial investments to be made by airlines.
Another executive of an airline said, “Each aircraft will require an investment of about $1 million and have to be grounded for at least ten days to retrofit the aircraft with technology to be able to offer Internet on board. In current circumstances, it would not be easy for airlines to spare money for it and ground aircraft. It will take some time till airlines start offering Internet-on-board.”
At the same time, telecom companies are waiting for the policy to come to launch products for airlines.
A telecom company executive said the next course of action would depend on the licensing terms and conditions. “There are rules around what kind of equipment that will be allowed and these we need to see before deciding to offer the service,” said the executive.
India witnessed a huge change in its Internet space with the arrival of Jio, which caused the number of India’s broadband subscribers to increase 52% in six months ending in February 2017.
A report titled ‘Mobile Internet in India 2017’ estimates the number of mobile Internet users in India to reach 478 Mn by June 2018.
As October nears for enabling in-flight connectivity for Indians, the pros and cons of this technology are something to ponder on.
[The development was reported by ET.]