India In-flight Wifi: All you need to know so far

Inflight Wifi has taken a lot of time to mark its foray into Indian aviation sector. International carriers have to switch off wifi when they enter Indian airspace since regulations don’t permit for anyone to be connected flying over India.

In 2016, the Ministry of Civil Aviation announced that in-flight WiFi in India would be available in a matter of weeks. Eventually, early this year, the telecom regulator TRAI, gave the green signal for in-flight WiFi. A few days back, the Department of Telecom notified the final rules for in-flight connectivity. So the next step will be for telecom providers to apply for a license.

The technical status of  Indian airlines for providing in-flight connectivity?

  1. SpiceJet
    SpiceJet played it smart. They have opted for factory-fitted in-flight connectivity systems onboard their new Boeing 737 MAX. They have decided for Inmarsat system which also provides wifi onboard Qatar Airways.
  2. Jet Airways
    Jet Airways didn’t opt for a factory fitted system for their new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. But Jet Airways already has wifi beaming systems on their Boeing 737 fleet for streaming IFE, powered by Global Eagle. They now need to install the radome to receive internet connectivity. You can check out how Jet Airways installed their wireless IFE system in this video.
  3. Vistara
    Vistara is in the same position as Jet Airways. They also have wifi based IFE in place. They will now have to install a radar and radar dome to start in-flight connectivity.
  4. AirAsia India
    AirAsia Berhad already provides wifi on some of the aircraft. Since AirAsia India used to take aircraft from AirAsia Berhad, it is yet to see if they will receive future aircraft which are ready for inflight-connectivity.
  5. Air India, IndiGo and GoAir
    Air India, IndiGo and GoAir have to start from scratch.
SpiceJet inflight wifi

SpiceJet 737 Max (VT-MAX) with the radar dome on top

Which airlines have shown interest in In-Flight connectivity?

  1. SpiceJet: They need to select the telecom service provider. SpiceJet seems to be getting ready to be the first Indian airline to offer inflight-connectivity. They have already provided Wifi based IFE, and have claimed they will launch with free wifi.
  2. Vistara: They have expressed interest in providing wifi for passengers, but the timeframe hasn’t been mentioned.
  3. Jet Airways: Jet Airways had shown interest earlier but considering the current situation don’t think they would spend resources to upgrade existing aircraft. They may opt for a factory-fitted unit on future Boeing 737 Max aircraft.
  4. Air India: Air India had shown interest in providing wifi to passengers. They plan on offering wifi on their Airbus A320 fleet initially. For an airline with a substantial international presence and a fleet of long-haul aircraft, one would naturally think they would provide wifi initially on their Boeing 777 fleet followed by Boeing 787 fleet. But it looks like they have different priorities.
    Don’t think Air India would install wifi on a priority as it has a lot on its hand like getting aircraft in the air, to prepare and submit a report on refurbishing seats and IFE and initiate the same and so-on.
  5. IndiGo and GoAir: They haven’t formally announced any plans yet. Both airlines are observing from the sidelines.

Pricing?

  1. SpiceJet: SpiceJet will initially provide free wifi to passengers. They plan on recuperating the costs through advertisements.
  2. Air India: Air India also plans on providing free wifi to passengers. Technically we are paying for it via the tax money and bailouts we keep giving them.

No word yet from Jet Airways and Vistara.

Telecom providers?

Jio and Airtel have shown interest in providing wifi. Air India plans to tie up with BSNL for providing in-flight wifi.

May see in future?

Gogo has already set up shop in India. Gogo is a service provider for in-flight connectivity. Apart from normal pay by use plans they also have a pass system in the USA which is beneficial for frequent flyers. A similar system in India will be a boon for frequent travellers. Also, some credit cards in the USA offer wifi passes. An added perk like this can be compelling.

Suggestion

JetBlue did a smart thing by tieing up with Amazon to provide in-flight wifi. Indian airlines should also consider tieing up with content providers to offer a similar Wifi+IFE option which can be actually a cost-saving option for airlines.

Market

Indian aviation is an extremely price sensitive market. Expectations are very high in comparison to the amount that we pay for. Boeing’s latest media briefing today confirms the thought process. Most passengers won’t pay for wifi if it is paid especially after the recent outcry about paid seats. I believe the market is small, but it is there for wifi. It makes more sense for a long-haul flight but even does for a > 2-hour flight.

Problems

  • Airlines
    Installing wifi systems on aircraft is very expensive especially when you have to start from scratch. Airlines in India are already operating on narrow margins and spending on wifi systems may require a lot of thinking. It costs anywhere between $200,000-$300,000 to install an inflight-connectivity system on an aircraft. It may be cheaper to go for a factory-fitted option as you won’t have to remove the aircraft from service to add a wifi system.
    This is just the one-time cost. Wifi systems are heavy, and the radar dome on the top of the aircraft increases drag. It increases fuel burn and will add to the spiralling fuel bill.
    If airlines are not able to balance the cost and revenue, then it would be a problem. That’s the main reason IndiGo has been taking a lot of time to decide whether they need wifi or not.
  • Passengers
    Free wifi may lead to a nuisance if passengers don’t put their phones on silent or vibrate. Constant notifications will cause problems. They already do when as soon as the flight lands. Imagine wanting to take a quick nap or stay in peace for an hour or two but now may have to listen to other passengers calls in-flight. Already some passengers play videos without earphones, imagine this with free wifi.

Bottomline

Wifi is an added perk for passenger experience. It is a sort of product differentiator. It doesn’t constitute a necessity, especially on a short domestic hop. A power/USB outlet for charging is a more prized/important commodity. Only Jet Airways offers it on select narrowbody aircraft. SpiceJet will offer at a later stage. This will be especially required once Wifi is operational on aircraft. Various airlines are at different stages to start providing wifi services with SpiceJet in the lead.

Are you looking forward to in-flight wifi on Indian carriers? [Ed’s Take: I am not]

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