Union Minister for Communications, Electronics & Information Technology and Law & Justice Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad has launched the maritime communication services at Mumbai today. He said that Maritime Connectivity will enable high-end support to those in sea by providing access to Voice, Data and Video services while traveling on sailing vessels, cruise liners, ships in India, using satellite technology.
Nelco, India’s leading VSAT solutions provider is the first Indian company that will now provide quality broadband services to the maritime sector. Nelco through global partnerships, infrastructure including transponder capacity on satellite of ISRO Indian Space Research Organization) and a comprehensive service portfolio will help Energy, Cargo and Cruise vessels by enhancing operational efficiency, improving crew welfare and enabling customer services. The IFMC licence has not only enabled connectivity for on-board users on ships but also brings operational efficiencies for shipping companies which were less evolved until now.
In December 2018, the Government of India announced the licenses for In-flight and Maritime Communications (IFMC) that allows voice and internet services while flying over the Indian skies and sailing in Indian waters, both for international and Indian aircrafts and vessels. The IFMC license is a key initiative of the Telecom Ministry, a move to liberalise satellite communication services in India.
Speaking on this occasion, Mr. P J Nath, MD and CEO of NELCO said that they will also be offering a bouquet of digital services to cater to the needs of the various types of maritime vessels.
Shri Prasad also launched a web portal for reporting of stolen mobiles for tracing purposes in the august presence of MoS, Communications Shri Sanjay Shamrao Dhotre.
International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) is supposed to be an unique identity of a mobile phone device. Generally, a phone with one/two slots of SIM card is programmed with one/two IMEI number as the case may be. IMEI number being programmable, some miscreants do reprogram the IMEI number, which results in cloning of IMEI causing multiple phone devices with same IMEI number. As on date, there are many cases of cloned/duplicated IMEI handsets in the network.
If such IMEI is blocked, a large number of mobile phones will get blocked being handsets with same IMEI causing inconvenience to many genuine customers. Thus, there is a need to eliminate duplicate/fake IMEI mobile phones from the network.
Accordingly, a project called Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR) system has been undertaken by the DoT for addressing security, theft and other concerns including reprogramming of mobile handsets.
Inflight and Maritime Telecom Connectivity
In a major policy decision, Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications had notified the Flight and Maritime Connectivity (FMC) Rules, 2018 on 14th December, 2018 permitting voice and data service provisioning in flights and ships. The policy intent of the Government is to open the airspace and territorial waters for telecommunication services for general public which was not possible earlier due to lack of enabling rules. Rules envisage creation of satellite gateway within India for providing telecom services in aircraft and ships through Indian licensed service providers. Further, Indian satellite bandwidth has to be utilised. If a foreign satellite is used, it has to be approved by ISRO.
Only the authorized IFMC service provider, can provide wireless voice or data or both type of services on ships within Indian territorial waters and on aircraft within or above India or Indian territorial waters. Territorial waters are 12 nautical miles from baseline of the coast and beyond that is the Exclusive Economic Zone upto 200 nautical miles (1 nautical mile is 1.852 Kms.). 7 Companies viz. (i) M/s Hughes Communications India Ltd., (ii) M/s Tatanet Services Ltd., (iii) M/s Indo Teleports Ltd., (iv) M/s BSNL, (v) M/s Reliance JioInfocomm Ltd., (vi) M/s Cloudcast Digital Ltd. & (vii) M/s Bharti Airtel Ltd. have taken the authorisation to provide Inflight and Maritime Connectivity (IFMC) services till date. Gateways for providing services have been established by M/s Hughes Communications India Ltd. at Gurgaon &Mehboob Nagar (Telangana) and M/s Tatanet Services Ltd. at Dehradun &Navi Mumbai. BSNL is also in process for establishing the satellite gateway at Ghaziabad for IFMC service, in tie up with Inmarsat.
Satellite bandwidth has been provided on Indian Satellites by ISRO to M/s Hughes Communications India & M/s Tatanet Services Ltd., for providing IFMC service. BSNL is in process of taking satellite bandwidth of Inmarsat satellite through ISRO. M/s Tatanet Services Ltd. are licensed VSAT & Internet Service Providers and can provide data connectivity services which can be used for data as well as voice communication over IP. They have tied up with shipping companies (such as L&T Shipping Ltd.) for maritime connectivity services and have also installed the remote end equipment in the vessels. Services will be provided using GST-14 satellite of ISRO in Ku-band (12 – 18 Ghz). M/s Tatanet Services Ltd. have invested Rs.20 Crore (approx.) for establishing the satellite gateway and satellite connectivity for providing maritime connectivity services which is being inaugurated on 13th September 2019 from Mumbai.
Issues regarding Inflight telecom services
For inflight services, Indian airline companies do not have on-board equipment for delivering the services. The equipment has to be retrofitted to the aircraft.Retrofitting is costly and will entail grounding of aircraft. Presently, other than Spice Jet none of the airlines are ready. Inmarsat equipment are available on few of the Spice Jet aircraft (13 numbers). Services will be available on these aircraft once BSNL gateway is ready and ISRO permission is available for Inmarsat satellite bandwidth. Two meetings with Indian airline companies alongwith Ministry of Civil Aviation were conducted and it was concluded that no regulatory issues are pending in DoT or Ministry of Civil Aviation. Airlines have been requested to start the services in coordination with the IFMC service providers at the earliest.