Passengers read mobile devices in the economy class cabin on board a Vietnam Airlines JSC aircraft. (Photographer: Linh Luong Thai/Bloomberg)

You Can Make Calls On Mobiles On Flights, Ships In Three Months

The government on Friday decided to form an inter-ministerial panel to roll out in-flight and maritime mobile services within three months, according to an official privy to the development.

The inter-ministerial group will meet every 15 days to sort out issues and expedite the process of approvals till the rollout of in-flight and maritime connectivity services stabilises, the official said.

The official said that a meeting was held today with industry players—airlines, shipping companies, telecom operators and government departments. It has been decided, the official said, to form an inter-ministerial group for quick rollout of IFMC services. The group will meet every 15 days to sort out issues that arise till the implementation smoothens, according to the official.

The government has notified rules for providing mobile phone services during air travel and ship voyage within Indian territory.

The meeting on IFMC services, chaired by Additional Secretary of Department of Telecommunications Anshu Prakash, lasted for about two hours. It was attended by representatives from the Directorate Generals of Civil Aviation and Shipping, Department of Space as well as the telecom department.

Industry players like Air India, Vistara, IndiGo, SpiceJet Ltd., GoAir, Jet Airways Ltd., AirAsia Bhd., BSNL, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., Bharti Airtel Ltd., Hughes India, Tata Telenet, Inmarsat, Panasonic and Nokia also attended the meeting.

The official cited earlier said that based on the discussions, the services will be rolled out within three months. SpiceJet said that they have made arrangement for the service in 10 aircraft, the official said. DGCA, according to the official, will expeditiously approve modifications in aircraft.

The DGCA representative is learnt to have said that new aircraft are already coming with in-built equipment to support in-flight mobile services and approvals will mainly be required for old planes in which modifications are required.

Meanwhile, broadband technology firm Hughes India has warned that high satellite bandwidth charges are likely to play a spoiler in the uptake of in-flight mobile services in India as these would make the facility costlier by 30-50 times at Rs 700-1,000 for a two-hour journey.

The firm's Chief Technology Officer K Krishna had earlier said satellite bandwidth charges in India are 7-8 times higher compared to other parts of the world due to the condition that bandwidth has to be procured from the Indian Space Research Organisation only.

Government departments have taken note of issues around bandwidth cost, the official said. The official said that Department of Space assured industry players that it will allocate bandwidth in frequencies that will be compatible with equipment and international standards.

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 Indian telecom licence holder.

IFMC services can be provided using telecom networks on ground as well as through satellites.