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In-flight connectivity to become a reality soon in India: Here’s what you need to know

Vistara will be the first Indian airline to offer in-flight connectivity services.

Vistara to be the first Indian carrier to offer in-flight connectivity
Vistara to be the first Indian carrier to offer in-flight connectivity (REUTERS)

Vistara, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, is set to become the first Indian carrier to offer in-flight broadband services. The airline will be offering this service on Dreamliners and Airbus 321 aircraft which are expected to be inducted soon.

Vistara has tied up with Nelco, a Tata Enterprise and VSAT solutions provider which earlier this month announced the launch of Aero In-Flight Communication (IFC) services in India in partnership with Panasonic Avionics Corporation. The company will be using ISRO's GSAT-14 satellite for the service.

Nelco said that its IFC services will enable international aircrafts flying over India as well as domestic airlines to offer broadband internet services to its passengers on board. "Further, it gives an opportunity for airlines to differentiate with others, enhance passenger experience, drive passenger loyalty, open up additional onboard revenue streams and optimize flight operations," said Nelco in a release last week.

Vistara Chief Strategy Officer Vinod Kannan said, "We have ordered Dreamliners and A321 which will be delivered by February-end or March. We will start their commercial operations on international routes by March-end or April with in-flight service on board. In the next two weeks, we will sit with Nelco and Panasonic to decide on the price."

It is worth noting that Vistara will be offering broadband service only and that it hasn't decided on offering voice calls.

Nelco MD and CEO P J Nath said the capability to provide both broadband and voice services would exist but it would depend on airline partners on the way they would like to package the services.

In-flight connectivity: A brief timeline

India is among a very short list of countries that doesn't have in-flight connectivity services. It is worth noting that the Telecom Commission in May 2018 had approved in-flight mobile calls, data services for the carriers.

Prior to the approval, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in January had released a consultation paper on the service. In its consultation paper, the regulator proposed the connectivity should be available at least 3000 meters above ground level.

"..the onboard Internet traffic must be routed to a Satellite Gateway on Indian soil. Such an obligation should be imposed regardless of whether the satellite in question is an Indian Satellite System or not," the regulator recommended.

In April 2019, Bharti Airtel's subsidiary Indo Teleports Limited (ITL) bagged license for in-flight and maritime connectivity'. State-run BSNL also owns the same license. Later that month, Reliance Jio reportedly applied for the in-flight connectivity license.