Global operators queue up to service spectrum demand

Written by Ashish Sinha | New Delhi | Updated: Oct 16 2012, 05:58am hrs
After waiting for the last four years, over half-dozen global satellite operators have flocked to India to service the huge demand for satellite-based spectrum for DTH, VSAT and other captive users. Foreign satellite companies including SES, Asiasat, ABS, Thiacom Amos, Intelsat, Measat, and Eutelsat among others are now in race to pick up slots over India. Sources said all these operators have applied for the request for proposal (RFP) floated by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) last month.

While the move will bring in relief for Indian DTH and VSAT operators, lack of clarity on technical issues threatens to scuttle Isro efforts, sources said. Once selected, the eligible foreign satellite firms will have to quickly move their satellites over India in order to solve the spectrum crunch facing the DTH, VSAT and other users.

This may involve Isro handing out the slots meant for its own satellites. There may be a security angle involved too because ownership of foreign satellites have changed hands in recent past. How will Isro address this issue, wondered a senior functionary in the DTH operators association of India.

When contacted, an executive of a foreign satellite firm said: Yes, we have applied. But with limited capacity and time-frame, there is still no clarity on the matter after GSAT-10 launch.

Meanwhile, the DTH operators and the VSAT associations have asked the government to modify the existing satellite communication policy so as to allow domestic private operators to directly engage with foreign operators within the framework of the modified policy. Routing of foreign satellites via Isro may not be adequate to service the growing domestic demand for spectrum. In fact, both DTH and VSAT associations have asked the Prime Ministers Office to modify the satellite policy so as to allow them to directly engage foreign satellite operators, said a senior executive of the VSAT association.

This is because against a much-needed requirement of providing 70-80 additional Ku-band transponders on satellites, Antrix, the commercial wing of Isro has neither been able to provide INSAT-series satellites (as mandated in DTH licensing norms) nor it has cleared files of DTH firms requesting migration to foreign satellites, sources said.

As a result, existing DTH operators are operating on 8-12 Ku-band transponders each, struggling to serve their 47-million consumer base. Only recently, GSAT-10 was launched by Isro that is expected to provide six Ku-band transponders to Tata Sky.

However, DTH operators point out Isros role in regulating entry of foreign satellites is a misrepresentation of the DTH licensing conditions. Clause 11.1 of the DTH licensing condition states: Though licensee can use the bandwidth capacity for DTH service on both Indian as well as foreign satellites, proposals envisaging use of Indian satellites will be extended preferential treatment.

According to a person who handles legal affairs for a DTH operator, the practice has been that for all Ku-band capacity, the DTH operator has to go to Isro. This practice came in force due to error in interpretation of the DTH guideline, which had a protective clause for Isro in late 1990s when adequate capacity was available with Isro which had plans to launch more channels, the executive said.

Even foreign satellite operators agree. We can position our satellite over India within a months notice and operationalise it for a DTH operator within three-months if Isro or the Prime Ministers Office allows it, said India head of a foreign satellite company.

However, despite the glitches, a host of foreign satellites are keen to re-arrange their capacity to service Indian operators. These include satellites like ABS-1, Eutelsat, Thiacom, Intelsat, Measat, Asiasat, and SES-7.