India is probably the only country besides North Korea to not allow in-flight internet

Image: Reuters/Arko Datta
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India has the second-highest number of smartphones in use, but these devices are rendered useless on board flights within the country.

Asia’s third-largest economy is the only nation other than North Korea to prohibit in-flight internet connectivity in its airspace, according to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The service is available even in China and other South Asian countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Globally, many airlines offer wi-fi to passengers but when their aircraft enter Indian airspace, the service must be switched off.

This is mainly due to security concerns. India’s home ministry is averse to the idea of allowing internet on aircraft, WSJ said, quoting an unnamed executive at a company that provides in-flight connectivity.

The ministry’s concerns are justified to some extent as India was among the top 10 countries (pdf) affected by terrorist activities in 2015. The country has a long-running dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir and the conflict has turned rather violent in recent months.

However, experts believe wi-fi on an aircraft has little to do with national security. The systems for flying an aircraft do not communicate with those used for wi-fi, Mark D Martin, founder of Dubai-based aviation consulting firm Martin Consulting LLC, told the WSJ. ”It is like an earthworm trying to communicate with a buffalo. To create a handshake between the two is nearly impossible,” Martin said. “National security reasons are absolutely unfounded.”

Over the recent months, the Indian government has talked about its willingness to offer the service.

For instance, in August, civil aviation secretary Rajeev Chaubey said that the government may decide on the matter “in the next 10 days.” While nothing came of it, last month, India’s civil aviation minister Jayant Sinha said the country’s telecom department had sought the government’s approval for this.

Meanwhile, Indian airline companies such as Indigo, Vistara, AirAsia, and Spicejet, besides state-owned Air India, have been offering wi-fi connectivity on some international routes, but not within India.

Global in-air internet providers like Geneva-based SITA OnAir and US-based Gogo International believe India will soon allow the service. However, this could be a long-stretched procedure as the government will have to amend its laws.