Trai seeks views on in-flight mobile calls, Internet

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Written by Pranav Mukul
| New Delhi |
Published:September 30, 2017 4:59 am


According to a senior DoT official, the Home ministry specifically wanted to know if legal interception of in-flight communications would be possible, and it was conveyed that this could be done.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has floated a consultation paper seeking stakeholders’ views on allowing in-flight Internet and mobile connectivity. Under this, the regulator aims to lay down the rules for telecom companies to provide passengers access to voice, video and data services on-board when the aircraft is flying over Indian airspace.

The telecom watchdog has sought views from stakeholders by October 27 on whether only internet services should be provided on aircraft, or mobile communication services, or both.

“Regular fliers will be familiar with the usual request to ‘switch off all mobile phones when on board the aircraft’. Till a few years back, aircraft was among the few places where mobile phones cannot function. However, with the advancement in the technology, it is now possible to permit the use of mobile phones on board,” Trai said in its consultation paper.

The matter was referenced to Trai by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) last month, which had originally prepared the proposal that was approved by the Committee of Secretaries. In February, The Indian Express had reported that the proposal was earlier being considered by the Civil Aviation Ministry, and later taken up by the DoT.

The telecom department had sent a draft plan to amend the Indian Telegraph Rules and the Indian Telegraph Act earlier this year to the Committee of Secretaries, but the proposal went back and forth with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of Space seeking clarifications.

According to a senior DoT official, the Home ministry specifically wanted to know if legal interception of in-flight communications would be possible, and it was conveyed that this could be done.

In its consultation paper, the Trai has pointed out that to ensure “lawful interception”, one possibility can be to mandate the use of the Indian Satellite System while travelling over Indian airspace. However, it said that the issue of availability of domestic satellite capacity needs to be addressed. It also noted that foreign airlines may have certain reservations against switching to the Indian Satellite System.

Quoting a study in its paper, Trai said that the number of aircraft offering wireless connectivity will rise to 14,000 by 2022, which would account for a 50 per cent connectivity penetration in commercial aircraft. This study, it said, also projected that approximately 5,000 of these aircraft will offer both Wi-Fi and cellular options.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), in its Global Passenger Survey 2016, said that if Wi-Fi was made available on-board, 30 per cent of the passengers would use them to send and receive e-mails, while 23 per cent of them would use it for instant messaging, and 22 per cent would browse the internet.

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