Free SpiceJet WiFi: What’s the catch?

In 2016, officials from the Ministry of Civil Aviation announced that in-flight WiFi in India would be available in a matter of weeks. Jet Airways and Air India talked about it over the years but that’s where things ended. Finally, early this year, the telecom regulator TRAI, gave the green signal for in-flight WiFi. And interest from vendors such as GoGo came in quick.

The radome on-top of SpiceJet’s new 737 MAX was a dead giveaway that SpiceJet’s new generation of aircraft has the capability to offer WiFi to passengers. Why didn’t SpiceJet go live with in-flight WiFi on the 737 MAX from day one? That’s because there is no licensed service provider in India. Furthermore, they are yet to get the final set of regulatory approvals.

We were invited for the formal unveiling of the airline’s 737 MAX where Ajay Singh, the CMD revealed that SpiceJet’s WiFi is going to be free. As per a recent Business Standard article, SpiceJet has tied up with Inmarsat, who are the same folks that power Qatar Airways’ WiFi.

WiFi at 35,000 feet doesn’t come cheap. Most airlines charge a fee for this service. But SpiceJet is offering WiFi to its passengers for free. This is a rare occurrence especially in no-frills carriers where ancillary revenues form a significant component of the top line. The carrier plans to monetize their WiFi by running ads.

SpiceJet’s recent moves are pretty interesting. They’ve restarted SpiceClub their frequent flyer program, selling in-flight bundles under the SpiceMax banner, and now they’re bringing in free WiFi. But how long will the freebies last? SpiceJet’s core customer base is not business travellers, but average Joes who are usually looking for a ticket on a deal. They’d use the WiFi to watch Youtube videos and scroll through social media feeds. And up there, each megabyte counts.

To enable wifi and the recently-launched SpicEngage, Business Standard also mentioned that SpiceJet will be retrofitting their planes with USB chargers. Makes sense as WiFi is notorious for draining cell phone batteries.

I think SpiceJet will eventually move to a pay-per-use model. As the target market is price sensitive, the charge has to be affordable. They can even go the Emirates way, where the first few megabytes are free (enough for texts and emails) and then charge for more.

Bottomline

It is exciting to see these developments in the Indian aviation space and SpiceJet is the poster boy. I’m looking forward to seeing whether or not the WiFi factor plays a major role while people pick a carrier in the country.

What do you think of SpiceJet’s move to offer WiFi for free? Would you choose them over other options due to this value addition

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