In-flight connectivity likely in next three months

DoT has issued licences to BSNL, Airtel, Hughes Communications India Ltd and Tata Telenet for Internet and mobile services on flights. Picture used for representation.  

International airlines could start providing Internet onboard over Indian skies in the next three months becoming the first to do so, while domestic passengers may have to wait for another “7 to 9 months” to start sending WhatsApp texts, browsing Twitter, streaming movies and making phone calls.

Over the past couple of months, the Department of Telecom has issued licences to BSNL, Airtel, Hughes Communications India Ltd and Tata Telenet for Internet and mobile services on flights. However, the installation of equipment and their certification means air travellers will have to wait for some more time to access these services. SpiceJet has already announced its plans to provide connectivity and Air India has invited tenders for the same. Vistara has also expressed its keenness.

“Any equipment that goes on the aircraft requires a lot of safety and certification. As most of the foreign airlines are already equipped with this service, they will be the first ones to adopt this, which will happen within the next three months,” said Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Hughes India, K. Krishna.

Subsequently, domestic carriers will start providing this service, starting with their international routes to catch up with competitors.

“Indian carriers on international routes will roll this out in the next three to seven months and, finally, domestic passengers will benefit in the next seven to nine months,” he said.

The waiting period is also because airlines need to plan the grounding of their planes to carry out installation of equipment.

“Aircraft need to be fitted with two particular types of unit, the SatCom unit that sits on top and some onboard transmission equipment installed in the aircraft. This is not something airlines can do overnight but will need to plan and take the aircraft out of service. Just planning and scheduling that work from an airline’s perspective also takes time,” explains SITAONAIR’s General Counsel, Oliver Drennan. SITAONAIR will work alongside BSNL to provide satellite connectivity to aircraft.

But, will connectivity come at a huge price for passengers? Mr. Krishna says while the pricing model could vary from one airline to another, a passenger could be set back by ₹200-300 assuming that all passengers on aircraft use the service.

“Essentially, the model will work only if the cost of the service is included in the ticket because the cost of the equipment that is fitted onboard can’t be recovered if only a few passengers opt for it,” he argues.

The other models include a free-of-charge service, a limited free session which can be topped-up, free access for premium passengers but a paid one for economy class travellers. Mr. Drennan says airlines may also get a sponsor who will pay for all or some of the operational expenses in return for advertisement.

Industry experts say telecom service providers like Airtel and others may start providing monthly packages to consumers which will include a certain amount of in-flight usage. These companies may also collaborate with airlines to provide limited access to all passengers in exchange for advertisement.

Along with onboard WiFi, airlines may also provide wireless in-flight entertainment which is pre-loaded on an aircraft and can be accessed by travellers on their personal device.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 11:04:22 AM |

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