India is one of the world's fastest-growing aviation markets and also the world's fastest growing internet services market, and such a step is likely to boost revenue for service providers as well as airlines.
TRAI recommended allowing mobile communications on board aircraft only above the altitude of 3,000 metres "for compatibility with terrestrial mobile networks". The regulator said that internet services through wi-fi onboard should be made available when electronic devices are permitted to be used only in-flight or airplane mode and announcement regarding this should be made after boarding is completed and the aircraft is about to taxi. Most airlines globally offer Wi-Fi on board as allowing mobile calls is seen as "too much of a nuisance" for fellow travellers.
The final nod comes nearly three years after the aviation ministry first mooted the idea.
After the recommendations of TRAI, a separate category of "in-flight communication (IFC) service providers" will be created, who will have to be registered with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to provide the service to the passengers.
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The regulator recommended creation of an IFC Service Provider for IFC services at annual licence fee of Re 1 only initially, after entering into an arrangement with telecom licence holder having appropriate authorisation.
The Telecom Ministry had requested TRAI to furnish recommendations on licencing terms and conditions for provision of IFC for voice, data and video services, including those related to entry fee, licence fee and spectrum allocations. It added that the regulatory requirements would be the same for Indian and foreign entities in the picture - airlines as well as service providers. "However, the same may be reviewed and amended at a later stage, if need be", Trai says.
TRAI has also recommended that the gateway for providing the IFC be located in India and that such a deployment will provide an effective mechanism to lawfully intercept and monitor the in-cabin internet traffic while the aircraft is in Indian airspace.
Telecom regulator TRAI has recommended that both telephony and internet services be permitted on domestic flights - the practice is already allowed on aircraft flying global. "Such an obligation should be imposed regardless of whether the satellite in question is an Indian satellite system or not", Trai says.