TRAI’s clearance of in-flight connectivity is good but how will airlines prevent cacophony?
Telephony and Internet on board airlines is not a new thing. Several international carriers have been offering on board Internet and voice calls, even on flights out of India for over a decade now. In the US, on board Internet is a now considered a ‘hygiene’ factor on many carriers, without it passengers will not fly them. Offering onboard Internet and telephony involves modification of airplanes, and that is not just establishing wifi hotspots throughout the plane. Aircraft are a rather crude form of what scientists refer to as a ‘Faraday Cage’, as they are essentially aluminium tubes. That is why aircraft radio receivers and transmitters are housed outside the aircraft. Sure, aircraft have windows and some radio signals do creep in, which is why you can still make phone calls and surf the Internet within an aircraft when you are on the ground. However, in all modern aircraft, the radio and navigation equipment is shielded from outside radio interference and mobile telephony uses completely dif- ferent frequencies. So yes, while radio-controlled toys can interfere with an aircraffs navigation system, mobile phones won’t because it is almost certain that on every flight there is at least one passenger who either forgetfully or deliberately does not put his mobile on ‘flight mode’. In fact, it is the mobile companies who don’t like a thin metal tube moving at 800 kilometers per hour across the face of the earth switching mobile towers every few seconds; it would drive their systems crazy. Airlines, though, are Quite happy to offer telephony and Internet on board aircraft
It is unlikely that on board Internet will be free or even affordable and different models will need to be figured out,although thanks to a decade of use the hardware and bandwidth costs are a lot lower than before. In the US, for example, net neutrality rules do not apply for on board Internet and some airlines have tied up with online video broadcasters to offer content Now in India, egregious costs could mean that the airlines can ask for some leeway on the rules from TRA!. After Reliance Jio forced telecom companies to drastically reduce the cost of a gigabyte to under five rupees, it is unlikely that people will pay huge sums for data in the air even if their offices are paying for the data. To be a truly meaningful new feature,on board Internet should be affordable yet should make the airlines a prott as an ancillary service. Then again, airlines do charge triple the price of a can of fizzy soft drink than it costs at a store. And there remains another important issue. The advantage of not being connected on a flight meant that it was a good time to catch up on reading, sleep and even books. Now, thanks to the Internet, you can jump into the latest social media outrage hashtag from 10 kilometers above earth. And what about those who might talk incessantly because they now can? People dread have a crying baby seat- ed near them but what if they are seated next to an lovesick teenager who is always on the phone? Some airlines have disabled voice calls for this very reason but on Emirates voice calls are allowed and there have no cases of people overdoing it But this is India and personal privacy and respecting others’ space is an alien concept to most of us. So the airlines might need to find a solution to the potential cacophony before they go ahead with offering these services on domestic flights.