Industry says Isro’s monopoly fuelling satellite shortages

Nov 30 2012, 03:48 IST
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SummaryThe country’s VSAT, teleport and DTH companies, which use satellite-based communication systems, have questioned the “unrealistic” target and the intention of the department of space and the Indian Space Research Organisation to meet the steep shortfall in satellite capacity through foreign operators.

The country’s VSAT, teleport and DTH companies, which use satellite-based communication systems, have questioned the “unrealistic” target and the intention of the department of space (DoS) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) to meet the steep shortfall in satellite capacity through foreign operators. The domestic operators have accused the DoS and Isro of favouring foreign operators over Indian companies keen on launching indigenous satellite systems.

The protest from home-grown communication companies comes against the backdrop of what they say is Isro’s “failure” to meet its target of providing 500 transponders in the 11th Plan period (2007-12) and also increasing it to around 800 transponders in the 12th Plan period (2012-17), without opening up the sector. Between 2007-12, Isro operationalised only 187 transponders on its satellite system.

Home-grown satellite firm JupiterSat, a company promoted by Hughes Network Systems, wants the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), DoS and the science & technology ministry to intervene as its three-year-old application to set up an Indian satellite system, Surya, has been ignored by Isro. Instead, Isro has now floated an expression of interest (EoI) inviting global players to set up a satellite in the Ka-band (broadband) and Ku-band (DTH). This comes after Isro failed to meet the target of providing 500 transponders under 11th Plan (less than 150 got operational).

For the 12th Plan period, the DoS has kept a target of offering 800 transponders.

Sources said JupiterSat through its promoter company has had a series of correspondence with the DoS, the PMO and the science and technology ministry, requesting clarity on its proposal. The company has argued that inviting foreign satellite companies to meet the demand of the Indian operators is a “regressive step” when an indigenous project for establishment of an Indian satellite system has been held up for almost three years.

Hughes Network Systems India president Pranav Roach said: “Yes, we have been writing letters to all departments looking after the policy and implementation of space programmes. All we get to hear is ‘please wait’ or ‘bear with us’ but no clarity is provided as to why the proposal has been overlooked.”

Sources in Isro, however, said while the proposal from JupiterSat has been under consideration as per the SatCom Policy of 2000 and many fundamental aspects of satellite communications such as pricing of Insat transponder capacity, allotment rationale among others have been under discussion. “When allotment rationale of smaller capacities such as part of one transponder or multiple transponders is under deliberation, the matter related to processing the application for a full satellite cannot be viewed in isolation,” an Isro official said.

Similarly, both the industry bodies – VSAT Service Providers Association and the DTH Operators Association – have also been writing to the DoS and Isro asking for an ‘open sky policy’ and the freedom to engage the services of any foreign satellite company without the lengthy and time-consuming bureaucratic process. As reported by FE recently, even the broadcast and telecom sector regulator has written to Isro batting for an open sky policy in order to help the growth of the sector, which is facing acute spectrum shortage. The six private DTH operators require around 40-45 Ku-band transponders over the next five to seven years to meet the growing demand. On the licensing side, the I&B ministry has already granted permission to over 840 TV channels for uplinking and downlinking.

However, Isro’s plans include launching 14 communication satellites by 2017, including high-power S-band satellites for mobile communications and a new-generation geo-imaging satellite, aimed at increasing the transponder capacity and introducing new-generation broadband VSAT systems and Ka-band systems.

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