In the not-so-distant future, you would be able to use your mobile for calling and browsing the Internet mid-air through a flight. You would also be able to use apps like WhatsApp and Skype to make calls on landlines. These two were among the several key recommendations of the regulator that the Telecom Commission today gave its approval to with some changes.
In-flight connectivity would allow companies to offer voice and data services inside a plane once it has reached a height of 3,000 metres. Companies like Lufthansa, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways already offer these services on their flights abroad. Issues of safety, jurisdiction and licensing have so far delayed the process. A new license called the in-flight connectivity provider licence will be issued by the telecom department for operation of these services.
“It was decided to accept TRAI’s recommendations (on in-flight connectivity) except that TRAI has said that foreign satellites and foreign gateways should also be permitted. But there had been an earlier committee of secretaries meeting which had decided that it should be an Indian satellite or a department of space-approved satellite and that the gateway should be in India. So subject to these two decisions, all the other recommendations of TRAI have been accepted,” a top official at DoT said.
Another major decision that would enhance and improve connectivity was the approval to operate Internet telephony services. Soon, it will be possible to use an app to call a mobile or a landline without the other user or the called person needing to have the same on the instrument. This also means that while the calling party will need to have a data connection, the other individual won’t need to have data services.
The official said over the top or OTT entities like WhatsApp and Skype which ride on Internet won’t need to apply for a licence to offer these services. WhatsApp-to-WhatsApp or Skype-to-Skype calls are already possible. Users will now be to make WhatsApp-to-mobile or WhatsApp-to-landline calls also.
The Commission also gave its approval to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s proposal to permit setting up of public data office for proliferation of WiFI services in the country. Aimed at job creation in small towns and villages, small shops and kirana store owners will be able to sell cheap broadband services using WiFi hotspots for as low as Rs 10 or Rs 5.
There was another big decision – this one directly aimed at consumers and their grievances. The Telecom Commission will amend the TRAI Act to give it powers to appoint an Ombudsman who will be the go-to person for any complaint that a telecom user may have against the service provider. It will be left to TRAI to decide whether it wants to appoint one Ombudsman or an Ombudsman circle-wise or operator-wise.
The Telecom Commission is the apex decision-making body of DoT and is headed by its Secretary. The panel’s decisions may or may not need Cabinet approval.
Other crucial decisions that the Commission took pertained to improving ease of business, setting up of a sub-sea cable from Chennai to the five island groups of the country and expanding broadband services in rural areas in eight states under the government’s BharatNet scheme.