As in-flight entertainment stages a vanishing act, domestic travellers may soon have a better option. The largest telecom operator Bharti Airtel has formed an alliance - Seamless Alliance - with OneWeb (Softbank-backed satellite start-up), Airbus (US-based airline), Delta (US-based airline), GoGo (in-flight broadband provider) and Sprint (US-based telecom operator) to offer in-flight connectivity. The alliance has members from three sections - in-flight broadband providers, telecom operators and aircraft manufacturers.
The global alliance, formed in Barcelona, will provide high-speed, low-latency connectivity seamlessly from the moment a passenger boards the aircraft till its landing. The pricing of the services that are going to be offered by the alliance is not decided yet, its objective is to add more partners. "The global alliance members will eliminate the immense costs and hurdles commonly associated with acquisition, installation, and operation of data access infrastructure, increasing accessibility for passengers and enabling simple and integrated billing," says the official release from Airtel.
At the moment, in-flight connectivity is provided by specialized operators - Inmarsat and Viasat - who operate in various countries. Inmarsat, for instance, charges airlines for providing in-flight broadband. Airlines, in turn, charge premium from the passengers to offer mobile communications in the air.
Even though the alliance is global, it's safe to say that Airtel is prepping up for the impending in-flight regulations in India that's going to allow passengers to make calls and surf internet during the flight. In a 2016 survey, Inmarsat found that 83 per cent passengers prefer to fly with airlines offering in-flight connectivity and some 55 per cent of all in-flight connectivity users have connected more than one device to in-flight Wi-Fi.
Some 30 carriers across the globe allow mobile phone use on aircraft. These include AirAsia, Air France, British Airways, Egypt Air, Emirates, Air New Zealand, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic. There are various bands to provide mobile communications services through satellite, including Ka, Ku and L bands.
Last month telecom regulator TRAI issued recommendations on in-flight connectivity for voice, data and video services for flights - international, domestic and overflying - flying over the Indian airspace. The Ministry of Civil Aviation is also trying to push in-flight connectivity for quite some time, but TRAI recommendations is the first concrete step in this direction.