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Government to form inter-ministerial panel to roll out in-flight mobile services by March

PTI     January 5, 2019

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

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 (IFMC) services stabilises, the source told PTI.

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

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 Department of Telecom (DoT) Additional Secretary Anshu Prakash, lasted for about two hours.

It was attended by representatives from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Directorate General of Shipping, Department of Space as well as DoT.

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

"Based on the discussions, it was felt that the services will be rolled out within three months. SpiceJet said that they have made arrangement for the service in 10 aircraft. DGCA said it will expeditiously approve modifications in aircraft," the source said.

The DGCA representative is learnt to have said that new aircraft are already coming with inbuilt 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. Efforts are being made to lower bandwidth cost. Department of Space has assured industry players that it will allocate bandwidth in frequencies that will be compatible with equipment and international standards," the source said.

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 the ground as well as through satellites.

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