Home / Industry / Telecom /  How Wi-Fi works in flights and why it will be expensive

Air travellers in India will soon get in-flight mobile services and internet access, with the Telecom Commission, the highest decision-making body at the telecom department, approving the proposal on Tuesday.

What will be the impact on users?

Users will be able to better utilize the time spent travelling. They will be able to do most basic web functions as well as stream videos from, say, Netflix, depending on the speed available.

Who will provide the in-flight services?

The department of telecommunications (DoT) will create a new category of licensees called in-flight connectivity (IFC) providers. They will provide internet and voice services on flights operating within India and need not necessarily be Indian entities. DoT will frame a new licence for IFC providers and charge an initial token fee of Re1 annually. Mobile-calling service will be allowed above 3,000m in the Indian airspace.

How will in-flight internet work?

In-flight Wi-Fi services rely on geostationary satellites which beam signals directly to antennas installed on the airline. This is more effective when the airline is passing over a water body compared with ATG (air-to-ground)-based networks which use satellites to beam the signal first to a transmitter on the ground and then to the antennas on the airline. The direct transmission of internet through satellites will be carried over the Ku and Ka bands.

The former has a smaller range of 12-18 gigahertz (GHz) while the latter has a range of 26-40GHz, resulting in better bandwidth.

What are the challenges?

Airlines and service providers will have to put a server on the flight along with the equipment to convert satellite signals into data packets. They will also have to add the equipment to re-orient the antenna to face the satellite so the reception quality is not affected. Also, there will be interruptions when the airline moves from the range of one satellite to another.

Will users have to pay more?

Installing equipment on every plane can be a costly affair for airlines. This means the cost of Wi-Fi services will be much higher than what consumers pay for 4G data available on mobile and public Wi-Fi networks on the ground.

“Rough estimates suggest fitting the equipment to provide such services in an aircraft could cost around $400,000-600,000... initially the cost to the passenger may be on the higher side," Kapil Kaul, CEO and director of CAPA South Asia, had told Mint on 1 May.

Navadha Pandey contributed to this story.

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