India: In-Flight Connectivity: "VNO" Or NO "VNO"?

Last Updated: 1 November 2017
Article by Asim Abbas

Most frequent fliers would have been familiar with the requirement to power off personal electronic devices (PEDs) for the duration of domestic flights. It was not until 2014, that Indian fliers were permitted to operate mobile phones and other PEDs on "flight mode" (in non-transmitting mode). The rationale for this restriction, as explained by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), is that radio transmitters in most communications devices may, and have in the past, caused harmful interference with crucial on-board flight systems. Therefore, while several Indian carriers such as Jet Airways already provide on-board Wi-Fi services, such services are limited to the provision of locally stored content to airborne PEDs, and do not enable passengers to connect to the internet cloud.

However, recent technological developments have now made it possible for passengers to use transmitting PEDs while airborne, without causing harmful interference to crucial flight operation systems or terrestrial communication networks. Together these technological solutions are labelled In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) services. Typically, IFC solutions are provided by making use of aeronautical mobile satellite services that use a satellite link to provide IFC to onboard PEDs; or by using Mobile Communications on-board Aircraft (MCA) systems, which while typically operating on terrestrial GSM communications bands, use an air-to-ground satellite link to establish connections with terrestrial networks.

To date, over 40 jurisdictions worldwide have permitted IFC services. And recent developments suggest India may soon follow, allowing its passengers to access communication services on-board aircrafts!

In a move that is expected to significantly improve passenger experience, and bolster non-aeronautical revenues for the airline industry, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), acting upon a reference from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), has issued a Consultation Paper on IFC, seeking stakeholder comments on the scope and contours of a potential regulatory framework governing the provision of IFC services.

One of the primary issues highlighted in the DoT's reference to the TRAI dated 10 August 2017, relates to delineating an appropriate licensing or registration regime for enterprises providing IFC services. In its Consultation Paper, the TRAI broadly explores the following options:

  1. Obtaining a Unified License, with Access Service authorisation (UL (AS)) or with Internet Service Provider service authorisation (UL (ISP)).
  2. Entering into an agreement with existing licensees having UL (AS) or UL (ISP) authorisation, or a Very Small Aperture Terminal – Closed User Group (VSAT-CUG) licence with ISP authorisations, or a Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite (GMPCS) licence.
  3. A separate standalone registration requirement for IFC service providers.

Current Regime for Reselling Telecommunication Services

For most international flights, which remain in territorial airspaces for a maximum of four to five flight hours, obtaining a dedicated service licence might be commercially unviable. It is therefore likely that most IFC service providers would be keen to enter into arrangements to resell services of existing telecommunications service providers in the territories over which the aircraft navigates.

However, the TRAI in its Consultation Paper on IFC has made no reference to the Unified Licence (Virtual Network Operator) (UL (VNO)) regime. Under extant laws, the only permissible arrangement wherein an entity may re-sell the services of a licensed telecommunications service provider (TSP) is through a VNO arrangement. In fact, certain other jurisdictions which have permitted IFC services, have also adopted a licensing framework similar to the UL (VNO) regime – the Info-communications and Media Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore, treat on-board MCA systems as an extension of existing terrestrial GSM networks, requiring IFC service providers to obtain only a Service Based Operator (SBO) licence.

Accordingly, unless the DoT takes a very liberal position on the issue, and requires IFC service providers to merely register themselves with the DoT, it is likely that IFC providers would be required to obtain a UL (VNO) licence with various service authorisations, i.e. Access Service (AS) or Internet Service Provider (ISP) authorisations for providing voice and data services to passengers; and VSAT-CUG or National Long Distance (NLD) authorisations for utilising satellite bandwidth for air to ground communications.

Further, since UL (VNO) licensees are permitted to maintain and operate requisite access infrastructure, an IFC service provider may tie up with any existing UL Licensee with AS and NLD authorisations to provide satellite bandwidth, and re-sell telecommunications services to passengers for the duration of the flight in Indian airspace. Moreover, if the Network Service Operator (NSO) parenting the IFC provider does not have requisite NLD or VSAT-CUG authorisations, the IFC provider may enter into separate NSO-VNO arrangements with other NSOs with appropriate authorisations for providing satellite bandwidth, provided that the IFC provider does not resell access services of more than one NSO.

Nonetheless, the associated licence fees for obtaining a UL (VNO) license (i.e. 8% of Adjusted Gross Revenue), and the fact that many foreign IFC service providers might lack a point-of-presence in India, might be challenges to the adoption of a UL (VNO) licence regime for IFC services.

The third, and the most light-touch regulatory option, is providing for a purely registration based regime, wherein an IFC provider would not be required to obtain a licence, but rather be required to register themselves with the DoT in accordance with prescribed rules, after entering into appropriate arrangements with existing UL (AS)/ UL (ISP)/ VSAT-CUG or GMPCS licensees. Such rules, however, would need to account for entities without a point-of-presence in India, and recognise harmonised technical standards for operation, along the lines prescribed by the International Telecommunications Union.

Moreover, the third option would also require additional security considerations to be put in place. Particularly, since the DoT, which has been considering a proposal for permitting IFC services in Indian airspace for a few years now, has treated the provision of real-time lawful interception of airborne communications as a non-negotiable prerequisite of any potential framework. In this regard, the TRAI has considered the following options:

  1. Mandating the use of Indian satellite systems while travelling over Indian airspace.
  2. Permitting the use of foreign satellites leased through the Department of Space along with Indian satellite systems.
  3. Sharing traffic to and from user terminals in Indian airspace to a node owned and operated by an Indian entity to address the requirement of lawful interception directly or in mirror mode.

Essentially, the primary technical requirement for enabling lawful interception, is that the Land Earth Station is situated in India and accessible. Should the DoT be keen on adopting a licensing regime based on the existing UL (VNO) framework, then most concerns of lawful interception would be addressed by the scope of the exiting Unified Licence itself. However, should that not be the case, then as TRAI has rightly observed, requiring all IFC providers to use Indian satellite systems might prove to be an onerous requirement in view of the lack of adequate capacity, and existing relationships that foreign carriers may have with other foreign satellite systems. While the third option raises concerns around time-lags in traffic shared in a mirror mode with the Indian nodes, it appears to be pragmatic and in tune with business requirements, especially if the DoT adopts a registration-based framework.

The DoT's recent efforts promise to significantly enhance passenger experience. However, existing research indicates that the IFC services market is rather cumbersome to navigate, particularly in view of applicable government levies, and lack of customer willingness to pay for IFC based voice and data services. Taken in this operational context, it is imperative for any potential regulatory framework to carefully balance the costs of regulatory compliance, so as to ensure sustained growth of IFC as an industry segment in India.

* The author was assisted by Indrajeet Sircar, Consultant

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Emails

From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.