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Three global telcos keen to provide services on domestic flights

Megha Manchanda/New Delhi 12 Jan 19 | 12:31 AM

Three global in-flight telecom service providers, including Inmarsat and Hughes Communications, have evinced interest to provide facility in the domestic skies prompted by the Union government's initiative for setting up an inter-ministerial panel to finalise internet services on domestic flights.

London-headquartered global mobile satellite communications provider Inmarsat offers passengers on-the-ground services in-flight. It is learnt that the company has tied up with public sector Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd to seek licence for the services.   

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Besides Inmarsat, US-based Hughes has also shown keen interest to take part in the licencing process. An inter-ministerial panel, comprising officials from the department of telecommunications (DoT), Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), ministry of civil aviation and directorate general of civil aviation, has been set up to finalise licences for the proposed services.   

In-flight connectivity primarily uses two kinds of technology. First, an onboard antenna that picks up signals from the nearest tower on the ground. Secondly, satellites are used to beam signals directly to antennas installed on the airline.

On May 1, 2018, the telecom commission (now known as the Digital Communications Commission) gave its approval to the proposal paving way for mobile call and data/Internet services to passengers on domestic and international flights, however, with certain riders.

The in-flight and maritime connectivity can be provided using telecom networks on ground as well as using satellites.

The services can be provided by a valid telecom licence-holder in India through domestic and foreign satellites having permission of the department of space.

Indian and foreign airlines and shipping companies operating in the country can provide in-flight and maritime voice and data services in partnership with a valid telecom licence-holder under the Flight and Maritime Connectivity Rules 2018. The guidelines state that the services will be activated once the aircraft attains a minimum height of 3,000 m in the domestic airspace to avoid interference with terrestrial mobile networks. Licences will be granted against an annual fee of Rs 1 for a period of 10 years, and the permit holder will have to pay licence fees and spectrum charges based on revenue earned from providing services.

ALSO READ: Govt to form panel to roll out in-flight mobile phone services by March

However, some experts believe airline passengers may have to bear the initial cost of installing antennae on aircraft, which could find a way into ticket fares, unless the airlines, despite rising jet fuel prices, decide to bear the costs themselves. The high cost of installing equipment for full-service carriers could discourage low-cost carriers. 

Key developments

An inter-ministerial panel, comprising officials from the DoT, Trai, ministry of civil aviation and DGCA, has been set up to finalise licences for the proposed servicesIn-flight connectivity primarily uses two kinds of technologyAn onboard antenna that picks up signals from the nearest tower on the ground Telecom companies to benefit from the usage as the tariff would be higher than on-land services Satellites are used to beam signals directly to antennas installed on the airlineTelecom companies will benefit from the usage as the tariff would be higher than on-land services 

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