The wait for Indian fliers to be able to make calls and surf the Internet at 30,000 feet and above will get over soon, as the telecom department is set to allow in-flight connectivity by October this year.
An official at the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) said “We are in the final stages of inflight connectivity licence norms and the service option will be given to carriers and telecom companies within two months”.
DoT officials said they have 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. There have been meetings with both telecom operators and airlines and some players have shown interest in offering the services, the official said. “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.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had recommended 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 Rs 1 annually. The Telecom Commission, which is the highest decision-making body in DoT, approved Trai’s recommendations, except for that to allow foreign satellites and gateways to provide connectivity in aircraft.
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. “While international carriers offer Internet on board, Indian carriers cannot offer that facility,” said an executive at an Indian airline. While there is no immediate clarity on pricing of such services, analysts said it could be much higher than the rates for mobile services on the ground because of initial investments to be made by airlines.
Experts said it would also take a lot of time for Indian carriers to launch the Internet-on-board facility. “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,” said another executive. “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.”
Telecom companies are waiting for the policy to come to launch products for airlines. A senior executive at one of the major telecom companies 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.