Aviation: Want WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter while flying over Indian skies? You can, this is when
Indian flyers cannot have access to WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or other social media apps simply because internet is banned on flights by government. However, big changes are afoot and you can do so very soon.
Mayank Luthra (name changed), a lawyer in the Supreme Court, is eagerly waiting for the government to give a go-ahead for in-flight connectivity services over the Indian airspace. A frequent air traveller, Luthra says he can efficiently use his flying time to respond to emails and WhatsApp messages, which at times are very critical to respond to.
Consumers like him can avail this service as early as November as the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is close to finalising the rules for in-flight connectivity in the next few weeks paving the way for service providers to kickstart the whole process.
A senior official from the DoT said a few technical specifications over height restrictions are yet to be sorted and subsequently final guidelines will be released in a few weeks. The last issue to be resolved is a clarification from the shipping ministry about the coverage area over the sea for mobile service.
Though many users are not amused as there is no need for them to be connected 24x7. Eventually, the service would be targeted for the business users, corporates and differentiation of service among airlines may be offered while providing internet connectivity with a limited or full access.
Experts also feel that this will be a niche service catering to a targeted group of users. Mahesh Uppal, a sector expert, says, “There is a significant market for in-flight connectivity service, which may not be big in terms of total percentage of users but in absolute terms, it would be substantial.”
The only worry for airlines would be the nuisance for other travellers if the service is too popular and abused. Despite being a niche service, pricing will be critical. “Pricing may not be less. I would expect it to be around $1 per minute,” Uppal adds.
Airlines would have to bear the cost of installing equipment, but for them, cost should not be an issue, as it would be an incremental but one-time cost for airlines, experts say adding that cost won’t be dramatically high for them. Airlines can bundle this service with their packages just like meals, seat preferences etc, another expert adds.
The DoT official said a clarification is required on coverage for internet/mobile services in water vessels — till territorial waters or EEZ (exclusive economic zone) — territorial water extends up to 12 nautical miles (around 22 kilometers) from coastal line of the country, while EEZ of the country covers up to 200 nautical miles.
In May this year, Telecom Commission - the highest policy-making body of the DoT had approved the proposal for allowing communication services on flights and maritime transport. A separate category of licensees - in-flight service providers - will be created with a licence fee at Re 1.
Globally, about 30 airlines offer WiFi services such as AirAsia, Air France, British Airways, Egypt Air, Emirates, Air New Zealand, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic onboard.
According to a British satellite telecommunications company, Inmarsat’s annual in-flight connectivity survey 2016, it was found that 83% of passengers would prefer to fly with an airline offering in-flight connectivity and over half (55%) of all in-flight connectivity users have connected more than one device to in-flight Wi-Fi.
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Once operational, the use of mobile phones and other internet devices will still be restricted during takeoff and landing. Internationally, more than forty jurisdictions, including the European Union (EU), Asia, and Australia, have authorised the use of mobile communication services on aircraft, according to information from the telecom regulator.
Source: DNA Money