Home >Industry >Telecom >In-flight Wi-Fi over Indian airspace moves closer to reality

New Delhi: Flyers will soon be able to avail data services during flights with the Telecom Commission, the highest decision-making body at the department of telecommunications (DoT), set to approve the much-awaited proposal at its next meeting scheduled on 1 May, a person aware of the matter said, requesting anonymity.

“We have taken approvals from all (including ministry of home affairs)... we will initially allow data services but slowly get into voice services also," the person said.

As soon as DoT approves the plan, airlines would be free to offer Wi-Fi services to passengers. Moreover, the pricing would be left to airlines, the person said, adding that the DoT would sign a licence contract with the particular provider, similar to what it has with telecom and internet service providers.

The DoT had in August asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to furnish its recommendations on licensing terms and provision of in-flight connectivity for voice, data and video services and associated issues related to entry fee, licence fee and spectrum.

Currently, telecom service providers pay 3-6% and 8% of their adjusted gross revenue as spectrum usage charges and licence fee to the DoT, respectively.

Following this, Trai floated a consultation paper in September and in January sent its recommendations to the DoT suggesting creation of an in-flight connectivity (IFC) service provider for IFC services at an annual licence fee of only Re1 initially, after entering into an arrangement with telecom licence holders having the appropriate authorization.

These IFC providers, Trai suggested, should be permitted to use either INSAT (Indian Satellite System, or foreign satellite capacity leased through the department of space) or foreign satellites outside INSAT systems in Indian airspace.

The regulator had also recommended that internet services through in-flight Wi-Fi should be made available when electronic devices are permitted to be used, only in-flight or airplane mode and an announcement regarding this should be made after boarding is completed and the aircraft is about to taxi. This would ensure no encroachment on the scope of terrestrial internet service provided by telecom service providers.

Mobile calling service should be permitted with minimum height restriction of 3,000 metres in Indian airspace for its compatibility with terrestrial mobile networks, Trai had then suggested.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) believes airlines are yet to determine a business case for providing such services in flights.

“Airlines will have to create a business case for the investment needed. Rough estimates suggest fitting the equipment to provide such services in an aircraft could cost around $400,000-600,000... airlines will have to see whether the investment is recoverable, what is the cost per minute, etc... initially the cost to the passenger may be on the higher side," Kapil Kaul, chief executive officer and director, CAPA South Asia said.

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