Since India relaxed its laws on inflight connectivity, the race has been on for the first Indian airline to get connected. Although other carriers have made noises about inflight WiFi, it looks like full-service carrier Vistara is taking the lead. Thanks to a new partnership with NELCO, we could see Vistara offering inflight WiFi as soon as February this year.
Vistara could be first
Vistara looks to be winning the race to become the first connected airline in India. The Economic Times reports that Vistara has firmed up a partnership with NELCO and is likely to launch its inflight WiFi services very soon.
India’s telecom secretary Anshu Prakash told the Economic Times,
“Vistara has tied up with Nelco and they have taken transponder space from ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation)…they had come to us for spectrum allocation which we have done. And they will be launching these services very shortly.”
According to the report, NELCO will provide Vistara with transponder space within its network of very small aperture terminal (VSAT) solutions. The Indian government has also allocated spectrum to Vistara ahead of its launch of services.
No details have as yet been released on the pricing of Vistara’s services. However, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) will not get involved in any regulation of pricing for the service. Prakash further said,
“It is for them to decide what tariff they will charge. I suppose it will be an add-on service that the airlines will offer in relation to their competitors but whether they will charge or not charge, is their decision.”
Where will we see inflight WiFi first?
According to the Times of India, the first aircraft to be capable of inflight connectivity will be the Boeing 787 Dreamliners on order by Vistara. The airline plans to take delivery of the first of six it has on order in February this year, with a view to deploying them on medium-haul routes, such as to London and Tokyo.
TEST FLIGHT Vistara 787-9 (more pics on my IG account plus wallpaper for 24hrs). This is 1 of 3 Vistara 787-9s here at Boeing. Yesterday she did a figure 8 around western WA as BOE809. Luckily the rain held off to snap these pictures. #spotvistara #vistara787 #vistara pic.twitter.com/kEalmf8m7O
— Katie Bailey (@KPAE_Spotter) December 14, 2019
Vistara only started flying internationally in August last year. Its first international flight was to Singapore, and it has since launched services to Dubai, Bangkok and Colombo. It will also be flying to Kathmandu, Nepal starting February 11, 2020
However, the airline has high hopes of launching services into Europe later this year, utilizing its new widebody aircraft to go the distance.
The race towards inflight connectivity in India
Until very recently, India did not allow any inflight data connectivity to airlines flying within its airspace. Foreign carriers had to turn off data services when flying over the nation, but all that changed in May last year.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) began investigating inflight data in 2017. After two years of research, it recommended to the Department of Transport (DoT) that it allowed such services when above an altitude of 3,000m. Acting on these recommendations, the DoT finally amended the Flight and Maritime Connectivity Rules in December.
Vistara, although only five years old itself, has been keen to get the jump on inflight connectivity within India. The partnership with NELCO as a provider is unsurprising, given that both entities are under the umbrella of the huge Tata Sons. NELCO was granted its inflight and maritime connectivity services license (IFMC) last year and had planned to start service early in 2020.
However, NELCO is not the only provider in Indian airspace. State-owned BSNL, in partnership with Inmarsat, has also secured its IFMC license, as has Airtel subsidiary Indo Teleports Ltd. As such, Vistara and NELCO face some tough competition in being the first to market with their IFC solution, and could yet be beaten by another airline and provider.