Regulators

TRAI stands up to DoT on use of foreign satellites for comms services on aircrafts

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NEW DELHI: India’s telecoms and broadcast regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India today stood up again for the lawful right of satellite industry stakeholders. It reiterated that the nation’s policies and guidelines for on- board aircraft communications services like broadband should also allow use of foreign satellites despite Department of Telecoms raising objections on the matter.

“If we do not allow the foreign aircrafts to provide the MCA (mobile on-board aircraft) services using their satellite and gateways over the Indian airspace, other countries will also not allow the Indian aircrafts to provide

MCA services while over-flying their jurisdictions,” TRAI justified its stance to DoT as part of clarifications sought by the latter on the regulator’s recommendations on in-flight connectivity services.

TRAI pointed that though a government panel may have suggested use of Department of Space-approved satellites only with Indian gateways, the in-flight connectivity or IFC services are technically complex withservice providers handling the logistics do so in partnership with foreign mobile service providers having created on-ground facilities for provisioning of MCA.

“Even if it is assumed that such a facility is created on Indian soil, aircrafts will need to be fitted with pico cell/equipment, which are compatible with one of the Indian TSP (telecom service provider)’s core network. There are several countries where IFC services are already operational and, accordingly, their aircrafts are equipped with pico cell which is connected to the core network of partnering foreign mobile service provider. These airlines certainly won’t be willing to carry out any modification due to the downtime and costs involved. Therefore, for such aircrafts, MCA over the Indian airspace seems feasible only with the existing arrangements in which partnering mobile service provider would be a foreign entity. It may require the use of foreign satellites and gateway, and traffic from aircraft may not be routed through gateway in Indian soil,” TRAI explained, adding that its recommendations have enough in-built safeguards to take care of concerns on India’s security.

If that was not enough, TRAI, at present helmed by chairman RS Sharma who’s due to superannuate in a few months’ time, categorically said in its response to DoT clarifications that the government panel’s decision to use only satellites approved by DoS with Indian gateways for MCA service was “not implementable”.

“If the use of foreign satellites and gateways are not permitted for MCA services, it would make the recommendation infructuous”, the regulator emphasized, though admitting that it’s role is recommendatory and the final decision would have to be taken by the government. “With this perspective, the Authority recommended that `use of foreign satellites and gateway would be permitted for the establishment of satellite backhaul links only for the provisioning of MCA services’,” TRAI added.

On several other objections raised by DoT on suggestions on providing communications services on aircrafts within India airspace, TRAI has stood its ground, reiterating that such bans on foreign satellites and non-Indian gateways could be against international laws and may make the service unviable.

The full text of TRAI reply to DoT can be found at http://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/RecommendationIFC05062018_0.pdf.

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