Incumbents, Jio differ on technology for in-flight Internet services


NEW DELHI: Older telecom operators and new entrant Reliance Jio yet again found themselves in opposite camps – this time on the technology to be harnessed for offering in-flight Internet and mobile services.

In their consultations with the regulator, all telcos have backed the offering of voice, data and video services in domestic and international flights over Indian airspace and those crossing Indian airspace, as this would provide an additional revenue stream for the debt-laden sector.

Incumbent carriers Bharti AirtelBSE 1.18 % and Vodafone India have suggested using air -to- ground (A2G) communications, saying it is better than bulky and expensive satellite-based in-flight connectivity (IFC) solutions. Jio, however, has suggested using LTE and satellite backhaul, besides a dedicated band for IFC services.
“To avoid any possible interference with terrestrial spectrum, the authority should recommend carving a dedicated spectrum band for IFC services.
Inside the aircraft, last-mile access should be provided through Wi-Fi,” the Mukesh Ambani-owned telco said in its response to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

Inflight communication services should be permitted with both LTE backhaul and satellite backhaul, Jio added.

“In case of satellite backhaul-based IFC in Indian airspace, the earth station should be based in India.”

By contrast, leading carriers including Bharti Airtel advocated using air -to- ground (A2G) communications, saying it has major advantages over the satellite-based IFC as it is more affordable, have low equipment cost, quick installation time, low cost per Mb, and low latency.

The No 1 carrier added that A2G communications would have minimum impact on regulatory aspects such as lawful interception, and can be provided over existing licensed spectrum owned by individual telcos.  ..

The No 1 carrier added that A2G communications would have minimum impact on regulatory aspects such as lawful interception, and can be provided over existing licensed spectrum owned by individual telcos.

The Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents all carriers, said that licence fee of 8% of the adjusted gross revenue should be specified for the IFC service provider and pass though of the amount paid by IFC provider to the telco should be allowed.

The telco community is, however, united on keeping regulatory intervention to the minimum in commercial arrangements and business models between international IFC service providers and telcos.

The views from rival telcos and other stakeholders such as the ministry of civil aviation and domestic and international airlines came after the Trai issued a consultation paper in September at the behest of the telecom department.

The regulator intends to recommend licensing terms and conditions for providing voice, data and video services in-flight, besides associated issues such as entry fee, and licence fee. DoT also asked Trai to give views on spectrum related issues, including usage charges and method of allocation.

“As technologies to provide access have developed, so too have consumer expectations. They desire seamless connectivity regardless of their location – whether on land, in the air or on the sea,” said Trai chairman RS Sharma while holding an open house on Monday, which is the next step of the consultation process.

Trai aims to issue its recommendations within a fortnight. A definite timeline for the services, offered by several international airlines in other countries to consumers, has not been made public by DoT or Trai.

Jio has backed offering services beginning from the boarding gate of the departure airport until the disembarking gate at the arrival airport, within the ambit of IFC, a proposal that incumbents have not agreed to on the ground that connectivity within airports was already being provided.

“There can be no case of ‘gate to gate’ services being provided by MCA (mobile communication services) license holder who will only be permitted to provide MCA service during cruise phase of flight, since the provision of gate-to-gate service will infringe on the rights of the mobile network providers,” Vodafone
India said in its submissions to the regulator.

The No 2 telco also added that an IFC service provider must have an agreement with a telco having access service permission, for offering the mobile communication services.

Supporting telcos’ views that Internet and mobile services should be offered in-flight, the civil aviation ministry said that a ‘spectrum neutral’ approach be followed – a view backed by Emirates and IndiGo – while adding that aeronautical spectrum be not infringed.

The ministry, however, added that international practices such as keeping connectivity off during take-off and landing should be adhered to, and that an override control should rest with the airline.


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