Soon you can Netflix and fly

by Elton Gomes

Indian fliers will soon be able to make calls and browse the internet at 30,000 feet and above, as the telecom department is set to allow in-flight connectivity by October 2018.

“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,” an official at the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) said, the Economic Times reported.

Officials at the DoT said that they have largely followed all recommendations put forth by the telecom regulator in terms of drafting guidelines. After the department clear the plan, an estimated two weeks will be required for the law ministry’s approval.

The official from the DoT said that meetings have been held with telecom operators and airlines, and some players have shown interest in offering internet services. “Once the licences are rolled out, then let the carriers and the telecom companies battle it out on who should take which service,” the official said, as per the Economic Times report.

In May 2018, Anand Chari, chief technology officer at Gogo, an in-flight internet company, said that the company was in talks with major telecom service providers like Airtel, Vodafone, and Reliance Jio for a partnership.

Once in-flight connectivity is fully approved, passengers will be able to purchase data packs for use during a journey. Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan said that service providers can provide internet as well as voice services on domestic and international flights over the Indian airspace.

Currently, flyers are not allowed to use mobile phones and internet in the Indian airspace due to security concerns. The government has been looking into this issues for almost two years now. With the latest recommendations from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), passengers will now be able to check emails, send and receive WhatsApp messages, and post their activity on social media.

TRAI had suggested that Indian and international airlines should be allowed to offer voice and data services within India’s airspace, which is above an altitude of 3,000 metres (about 9,850 feet). TRAI recommended that licenses for in-flight service connectivity should be provided at Rs 1 annually. The Telecom Commission has approved all of TRAI’s recommendations, except the one that allows foreign satellites and gateways to provide connectivity in an aircraft.

In terms of the prices for in-flight connectivity, Neelu Khatri, president of aerospace at Honeywell India, the company that offers high-speed in-flight Wi-Fi, said, “The pricing would depend on the airline, sometimes it is a part of the ticket and sometimes you are charged (rates)… that could start from $5-10. Indian airlines will have to see what passengers will be willing to shell out,” Hindustan Times reported.

As per a survey cited in the Hindu, about 83 percent passengers would prefer to fly with an airline that offers in-flight connectivity. “It is a fabulous decision. Given the nature of my job, I’m constantly travelling and it is my downtime when I take flights, which now I can use more productively. With data availability, I can catch up on work, read online and stay connected,” Abhishek Ganguly, managing director of Puma India told Hindustan Times.

Although passengers might be enthused over being able to enjoy in-flight internet, Indian low-cost airlines did not seem very keen on the idea. The airlines cited high installation charges, the cost of which may not be recovered on a two-and-a-half-hour trip.

“The in-flight connectivity business is a difficult case to make for domestic airline operations. The aircraft are smaller, there are fewer passengers, and the flying time is not that long,” an executive of a low-cost airline said, Business Standard reported. On the other hand, full-service carriers said that they would consider providing in-flight wi-fi based on the passenger feedback.

Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius


in-flight connectivityTelecom departmentTRAI