Vistara partners with Tata group firm Nelco for inflight data services

Topics Vistara

Vistara has partnered with Tata group company Nelco for inflight data services, which are expected to be rolled by the full service carrier shortly, according to a senior government official.

Nearly five years after starting operations, Vistara -- a joint venture between Tatas and Singapore Airlines -- is also likely to be the first domestic carrier to provide inflight connectivity within India.

Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash said required spectrum has been allocated for the purpose.

"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," he said.

When contacted, a Vistara spokesperson said, "we have not finalised this yet," referring to launch of the services.

An email sent to Nelco seeking comments did not elicit any immediate response and the company's spokespersons were also unavailable.

While airlines can offer both voice and data connectivity under the 'Flight and Maritime Connectivity Rules-2018' notified by the government in December 2018, data connectivity is expected to be offered first, Prakash said.

"There can also be voice but voice is not happening right now. Still data is as good as voice, because once you have data you can use Over-The-Top (OTT) and make WhatsApp calls," he noted.

Regarding inflight wi-fi services, Prakash said the tariffs are not regulated by the government.

"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," the Telecom Secretary said.

Telecom pricing is currently under forbearance, and "tariff is not an issue in this", he added.

Vistara, in which Tata Sons has 51 per cent stake and the rest is with Singapore Airlines, began commercial services on January 9, 2015. With a fleet of 39 planes, the carrier operates more than 200 flights a day and is working on expanding its overseas presence.

Last month, Nelco said it expects to roll out in-flight data connectivity services by January but did not divulge the airlines it would be partnering with for the offering.

In March, the company obtained a license from the Department of Telecommunications for providing In-Flight and Maritime Connectivity (IFMC) services.

"We are hoping to start inflight connectivity services around January timeframe. We will start with data services," Nelco Managing Director and CEO P J Nath had said recently.

As per the terms and condition of the IFMC license, the services would be activated once the aircraft attains a minimum height of 3,000 metres in Indian airspace to avoid interference with terrestrial mobile networks.

The IFMC license is granted against an annual fee of Re 1 for a period of 10 years and the permit holder has to pay licence fees and spectrum charges based on revenue earned from services.

In September, Nelco launched its maritime communications services in the country, and said the offering would enable high-end support to those in sea by providing access to voice, data and video services while travelling on sailing vessels, cruise liners, ships in India, using satellite technology.

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