The Department of Telecommunications is planning to allow only data services aboard flights and water vessels within India in the initial rollout of in-flight connectivity. Voice services have been put on a hold for now on account of some gateway issues. The proposed in-flight connectivity guidelines talk about providing both data as well as voice services to passengers on air or maritime transport within the national boundaries.
“DoT will initially seek application for data services under in-flight connectivity (IFC) guidelines. There are some issues around gateway for voice so that will not start immediately,” a Department of Telecom (DoT) official told PTI.
In-flight connectivity service is available in most of the developed markets. While mobile phone use will still be restricted during takeoff and landing, the Telecom Commission has approved lifting the ban on the use of mobile phones and internet services at cruising altitudes. Globally, many airlines are offering Wi-Fi for passengers, but they have to switch off the facility when they enter Indian airspace.
AirAsia, Air France, British Airways, Egypt Air, Emirates, Air New Zealand, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic are among 30 airlines that are already allowing mobile phone use on aircraft but not in Indian airspace.
The DoT is likely to approach the Law Ministry next week for the review of these guidelines before notifying them. It could take around two weeks the Ministry to sanction the guidelines before they could be notified.
The DoT has reportedly held meetings with telecom operators and airlines, with some parties showing interest to offer these services. Once the licences are rolled out, the carriers and telecom companies will reportedly have to bid to acquire the license for the service they want to push out.
Indian carriers have been advocating internet services on flights as it would result in add-on revenues and bring them at par with international flights. While it is still too early for a definite pricing structure for in-flight connectivity, it is anticipated that the cost will far surpass that of rates for normal mobile services.
However, it is not going to be a simple task for Indian carriers. Each aircraft would require an investment of about $1 million, an executive said. The plane will also have to be grounded for at least 10 days to retrofit the aircraft with the technology. In current circumstances, this revamping may not come across as very welcoming.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had earlier said that Indian and international flights be allowed voice and data services within India’s airspace above an altitude of 9,850 ft. It suggested that in-flight service connectivity licences should be provided at Re 1 annually. Except for international flights, the Telecom Commission approved TRAI’s recommendations.
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