Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has announced that voice and data connectivity will soon be allowed on-board domestic and international flights in Indian airspace.
The Minister for Civil Aviation Ashok Gajapathi Raju confirmed this on Twitter on January 19.
The implementation could take six months. TRAI still needs to work out the finer details with regards to licensing, security, spectrum related issues and other conditions. A mechanism will be put in place for lawful interception and monitoring of wifi for security reasons. Once the policy comes into play, airlines will partner with service providers to set the new scheme into motion.
How mid-air wifi works?
In-flight connectivity (IFC) already exists worldwide on aircraft managed by non-Indian airlines. British Airways, Emirates, Delta, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa amongst others offer IFC on their international routes.
There are two ways to provide telecom signals on the flight. One is via ground-based mobile broadband towers. However, connectivity can be interrupted while flying over remote areas and water bodies where there are no towers. Another efficient solution is satellite technology. Signals are picked up from satellites floating in space, via an antenna on top of the aircraft and transmitted on-board through a wifi router.
Will passengers be charged extra for these services?
The price of in-flight connectivity will vary between airlines. The airlines will incur installation and engineering costs to set up and maintain IFC systems. They will also bear extra fuel costs due to increased drag by the antennas.
Some of these costs may be passed on to the passengers.
“Internet and Mobile Communication on Aircraft (MCA) service should be permitted as in-flight Connectivity (IFC) services in the Indian airspace.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. 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,” says a TRAI official in its recommendations to the Department of Telecommunications.