Internet connectivity while airborne – a possibility being actualised

By Sheetika Tandon

Do you miss checking into your WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram accounts while travelling in a flight thousands of feet above the ground? Apparently, the state-run telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) and International Mobile Satellite Organisation (INMARSAT) have already started the spade work on the endeavour. This provision of in-flight connectivity was earlier available only to the defence personnel. However, as per reports, BSNL has received a nod from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for the provision of internet connectivity during flight travels for the masses.

Surging ahead

Anupam Shrivastava BSNL chairman said, “In about a year’s time, we will open satellite phone services to private companies and persons, as well as offer Internet facility on flights and ships.” This facility will be available by means of a Wi-Fi router which will be facilitated through antennas linking it to the nearest satellite. The tariff plans would decide over the bandwidth after necessary regulatory approvals.

The satellite phones equipped with new SIM numbers are expected to arrive at telco soon. Initially, the transition mode would be activated with the stepping up of the network’s broadband capacity following, thereafter. It would then be extended to aeroplanes and ships.

The history of satellite-based services

Until recently, Tata Communications (TCL) provided satellite-based phone services in India after acquiring state-run Videsh Sanchar Nigam (VSNL) in February. However, the services offered by the Tata Group have had limited forms. As per recent developments, BSNL now stands as the exclusive player bearing a license to provide satellite-based phone services in India.

As per a BSNL executive, INMARSAT has tied up with BSNL and has already installed their equipment on its premises after passing through law enforcement tests. Not just this, the company has also applied for the International Maritime Organisation license. As for the existing users of INMARSAT satellite phone services, the company has directed them to migrate to the new network, by July 31 and the ongoing transition from Tata Communications to the new network is likely to conclude by August.

First of its kind

Presently no Indian airline offers Internet services owing to certain regulations put forward by the government. This is thus a first of a kind initiative in India. However, there have been attempts in the past to furnish in-flight entertainment portals for the passengers, for instance, Jet Airways streaming service called JetScreen which offers movies, music, and games to its flight inmates on their personal devices by connecting them to its in-flight WiFi functionality. It is available on 75 Jet Airways flights bearing the capability of connecting flyers to its in-flight WiFi service, lacking the option of internet browsing. A similar facility was also provided by Tata’s full fare airline Vistara in March 2015.

The ‘connected aircraft’ is believed to be a $7-billion opportunity, as per the recent findings by the US-based aerospace system provider Honeywell. As many as 25,000 aeroplanes are expected to offer Internet connectivity by the year 2025. It is thus a huge step ahead, marking the progress of technology in India. This move is sure to boost the domestic airline industry to a large extent but what remains is its effective implementation in the forthcoming years. to offer Internet connectivity by the year 2025. It is thus a huge step ahead marking the progress of technology in India. The move will surge the domestic airline industry to a large extent but what remains to be seen is the effective implementation in the years to come.

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