Air passengers will soon be able to make calls and browse the internet while flying in Indian airspace, with the telecom regulator recommending that domestic and international airlines be permitted to offer both services.
Internet access through Wi-Fi will be allowed within the aircraft, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said Friday, adding that making calls will be allowed once an aircraft reaches an altitude of 3,000 meters, it said. For making calls, the airplane mode in the phone will have to be kept off, although usually it is kept on during the duration of the flight.
“As long as provision of the service is technically feasible and security concerns can be addressed, there should be no regulatory barrier in the provisioning of any of these services,” Trai said in its recommendations to the Department of Telecommunications.
“Internet and Mobile Communication on Aircraft (MCA) service should be permitted as In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) services in the Indian airspace.” The regulator said there is strong demand for mobile and data connectivity on flights.
“These expectations are pushing up the demand for fast, seamless aircraft connectivity… The evolution of passenger attitude towards on-board WiFi means that where it was once seen as a novelty or luxury, it is now considered a necessity,” Trai said.
Indian airlines said the facility would help them to compete with foreign carriers, although installing equipment to offer WiFi would be expensive. Analysts said the service will help travellers immensely, although noise levels with within aircraft may rise. A quarter of the planes will be equipped with IFC in 2018 and there will be 1 billion passenger journeys on such aircraft, said Hemant Joshi, a partner with Deloitte India.
DoT had sought the regulator’s views on introducing voice, data and video services over Indian airspace for domestic, international and overflying flights. Globally, more than 30 airlines allow voice calls and internet access during flights, Trai said in its recommendations.
Trai suggested creating licences for IFC service providers. It said foreign telecom operators should be allowed to offer voice services in partnership with a local telco so that the mandated lawful interception requirement is met. On-board internet traffic must be routed to a satellite gateway on Indian soil.
“The IFC service provider should be imposed a flat annual licence fee of token amount of Rs 1,” the regulator said, adding that it may be reviewed later. “There should not be any difference in the charges to be levied for domestic and foreign airlines in Indian airspace.”
The regulator said IFC providers should have the flexibility to use technology and spectrum – within the Ku, Ka and L bands – as long as they are consistent with international standards and do not interfere with terrestrial networks. “It would ensure that there is no encroachment on the scope of terrestrial internet service provided by telecom service providers as well as practically there won’t be any appreciable discontinuity in the provisioning of internet services to the flyers,” Trai said.
Some Indian airline executives said IFC will help them compete with their foreign peers. “Indian carriers will determine what to offer depending on their competitive situation,” said an airline executive who did not want to be identified. The executive explained that retrofitting existing aircraft to offer Wi-Fi is expensive.