State-run telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) and International Mobile Satellite Organization (INMARSAT) will be providing Internet service to flyers in India in a years’ time, reports ETtech. Indian flyers will be able to browse the Internet and log on to social networks like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram among others. Apparently, BSNL has received the go ahead from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), the report mentions.

This kind of in-flight connectivity was earlier available only to defence personnel. BSNL chairman Anupam Shrivastava told the publication that BSNL will open satellite phone services to private companies and persons, as well as offer Internet facility on flights and ships.

According to the report, INMARSAT has already installed their equipment at BSNL’s premises after being tested for law enforcement. The company has also already applied for the International Maritime Organisation licence. INMARSAT was set up under the United Nations in 1979 and India was one of its founding members.

How it will work: Air travelers will get the Internet via a WiFi router, which will be facilitated through antennas which will link it to the nearest satellite. The BSNL chairman said that the bandwidth would be provided as per the tariff rolled out after necessary regulatory approvals.

In-flight initiatives

At present, no Indian airline offers Internet services owing to regulations, but State-owned Air India may be the first to do so. According to various media reports (here and here), Air India will soon provide in-flight WiFi service on its Airbus A-320 planes that are the mainstay of its domestic operations. Earlier, Jet Airways had rolled out a streaming service called JetScreen, for domestic flyers to access movies, music and games on their personal devices by connecting to in-flight WiFi. Jet Airways’ in-flight entertainment is available on six domestic Boeing 737 flights which includes Delhi-Mumbai routes and is available across its 75 aircrafts. However, note that the free WiFi in Jet Airways only connects flyers to onboard services, and not Internet browsing. While in March last year, Tata’s full fare airline Vistara had announced a similar service on its flights wherein passengers could access entertainment portals on their mobile phones.

Will the experience be different from what Indian Railways has offered thus far?

Over the past decade or so, Indian Railways has announced several plans of introducing WiFi Internet services at train stations across the country and inside trains as well. While, hundreds of train stations across the country theoretically now do have WiFi hotspots, the quality of the service is often sub-par. Google’s railway WiFi service in India across 19 stations, which was accessed by over 2 million monthly users as of August 2016, is probably the closest we have got to a reliable WiFi service at train stations. However, in terms of in-train Internet services there has been practically no progress.

In December 2014, the Government had informed Rajya Sabha that the Indian Railways had fixed a budget of Rs 98.6 crore to provide WiFi facility in 50 rakes of Rajdhani, Shatabdi & Duranto category of trains. This budget was nearly double the Rs 55 crore estimated budget the Indian Railways had mentioned for introducing WiFi facility in these trains, in August 2014. The progress in implementation hasn’t matched the increase in budget. More about Indian Railways’ tryst with WiFi here.

(With inputs from Riddhi Mukherjee)