I had the pleasure of meeting RunwayGirl and Winglets747 from FlightGlobal during the Paris Air Show. We had an interesting discussion on Inflight Connectivity and the developments surrounding it. One interesting question that came up is, "Why can't Australian airlines provide GSM connectivity through the satcom?" (Hey, they already got it installed)... afterall, Emirates is already providing it through Aeromobile on flights to/from/over Australia. Another point that came up was whether WiFi services could be provided instead for Australian airlines.
As interesting as the discussion went, one thing keeps bugging me. Everytime I explain to someone about Indonesia's Telco laws (Law No. 36/1999), people kept saying, "Oh your country is so protective", or "Oh, you're a monopoly, riiight!", or even, "Gee, your country is so backward when it comes to global trade."
So, tonight, I decided to have a look into how Australian law affects their airlines on connectivity, and how it differs from Indonesia.
The law in Australia separates telecommunications into two parts:
1. The physical act of telecommunications, this is covered by the Radiocommunications Act of 1992. (RCA)
2. The service act of telecommunications, this is covered by the Telecommunications Act of 1997. (TCA)
What is interesting is that RCA defines Australian territory to include space outside the atmosphere above Australia (S18 RCA), but TCA does not cover anything above the stratosphere (S28 TCA).
TCA covers the use of radiocommunications facilities from a point in Australia to another point within Australia or outside. It covers basic telephony services, public mobile telecommunications services, and satelite based facilities (but there are some exemption provisions).
A lot of the contents of the laws are similar with Indonesian law (Law No. 36/1999 regarding Telecommunications). However, the Australian law does not appear to restrict Airtime charges for services used by an Australian company to have to be purchased from or paid to an Australian owned company (but I'm not clear on whether the service company has to be Australian or not), although S65 TCA does mention "Conditions about Foreign ownership or control". And if one thinks about "using an Australian companies" as an intermediary, it's covered by TCA under S87.
International (Foreign) operators and/or their local partners providing services to Australian companies must watch out for TCA S367, which covers "National Interest", to which the Australian government can always intervene at will.
OK, so that doesn't pose too much of a problem for airlines to use OnAir or Aeromobile services for Australian airlines (especially for domestic flights) right? Well, let's have a look at RCA.
There are a few differences between the Australian RCA and Indonesia's Telco laws the radio station permits and spectrum frequency use for airborne mobile satellite services. RCA does not cover foreign aircraft flying to/from/through Australia (RCA S32). The Indonesian law, only provides exemption on the telco certification end for foreign aircraft flying in/to/from Indonesia, so there is a little bit more flexibility with RCA. So, Australia's RCA is less strict than Indonesia's Telco law right?
Errr... not really.
- RCA S16 covers Australian companies using their equipment even outside Australia, Indonesia's telco law only covers airtime when talking about use outside Indonesia for Indonesian companies.
- RCA covers one way emissions (forgot which section), and Indonesia's telco law covers only two way communications (and one-way for broadcast service, but excludes foreign broadcast). Theoretically, GPS receivers, should fall under RCA too! (But again, there are probably sections covering that as exempt).
- Both countries have Spectrum usage charges (RCA S67 for Australia).
- Both countries require the spectrum license to be issued to local residents/companies (RCA S69A for Australia)
I guess, the only difference is, Australia can issue the spectrum licenses for Iridium or Inmarsat-4 services to more than one company for each service, while in Indonesia, each spectrum license for a particular service can only be issued to one company (and one company cannot hold more than 1 foreign satellite spectrum license to prevent monopolistic practices).
Locals here complain, "Oh that means our Telco law makes our local companies not competitive!" Well, I think Australia's RCA makes them less competitive than ours!
Nothing is stopping airlines in Indonesia, or Australia, from providing onboard connectivity provided they follow the respective laws. From what I know, one mining charter airline in Australia already has connectivity installed using the local SatCom providers. Why won't Qantas or Jetstar or Virgin do the same? When it comes to GSM connectivity, why can't they work with the Australian mobile providers for it?
The same questions apply to Indonesia... We already have the highest number of Blackberry addicts outside the Americas, one of the largest social media population in the world (according to Facebook users and Twitter users), why can't the airlines provide onboard connectvity?
Well, the answer is, THEY CAN! But, the question really is more on "Do they want to do it the right way and the lawful way?"
In the case of Garuda Indonesia, the CEO had stated in the past that Garuda plans to introduce onboard connectivity services. In an article dated 18 June 2010, it was revealed that Garuda was preparing to spend US$17.5 million on connectivity. The telecommunications regulators in June 2010 stated that onboard connectivity services can be provided as long as they comply with the applicable telecommunications law. This means that, the service provider for the Satellite service must have the permits, the cellular service must be provided by local operators, and same with the internet service (non-cellular). Back then, no company has the permits for the satellite service. Local cellular provider, Indosat, had agreed to provide onboard connectivity services with Aeromobile and that they would offer the service to Garuda, unfortunately, Indosat has no permits for the satellite services required. This was what prompted the Telco regulator in Indonesia to "warn" everyone about the permits.
The irony is, now that there IS a satellite service provider in Indonesia with the right permits, that can provide onboard connectivity, Garuda seems uninterested.
V-Australia and Qantas had previously announced that they were to use OnAir and Aeromobile, but nothing can be found in their websites today, except that V-Australia states it as "Coming Soon". Perhaps, they ended up falling to the same "trap"? Maybe, in the frenzy to gain media hype on providing this latest "in-thing" in the airline industry, they too, like Garuda, forgot, that airlines need to comply with more than just the respective aviation laws, and that, when they decided to provide connectivity service, they forgot about the telecommunications law when they made the announcements?
On another confusing note, during Paris Airshow 2011, Air Asia announced that they were going to provide connectivity, initially on AirAsiaX, and later on to AirAsia's shorthaul networks. It was announced that they were going to provide the service "leveraging on their EFB connectivity technology", which means, using FlightFocus's Iridium connectivity. I hereby pose a question, what happened to the Air Asia connectivity plans with OnAir that was announced on 24September 2010? It appeared that they went one step further than most, in partnering with local Malaysian mobile service provider, Maxis, for the GSM connectivity, but, look at AirAsia's website today, or talk to the crew, no one seems to know about it! Is it because they didn't talk to or couldn't get an agreement done with Inmarsat-4 rights holder for Malaysia (Telekom Malaysia?) or was it because the service wasn't profitable?
If it wasn't profitable, perhaps they should have attended the "Airline Retail Conference" in London last weekend?
So, what have these airlines really missed? Anyone?