Elon Musk’s SpaceX-owned satellite internet service provider Starlink has started talks with the department of telecommunications (DoT) to apply for a licence to offer satellite-based communication services in the country.
To provide satellite-based communication services, companies need to get Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite (GMPCS) licence from the government. Sources said that Starlink is likely to apply for the same within a month. While the licence can be granted to the company by the DoT, the allocation of spectrum is likely to be done only once the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and the government decide whether the airwaves need to be auctioned or allocated administratively.
Starlink had started taking bookings for its satellite-based services from Indian customers a year ago but was directed by the government to call off such bookings as it could not be done unless a valid licence is granted by the government. In compliance with the DoT order, the company returned the booking amount to over 5,000 pre-booked customers.
“Fresh talks have started with Starlink, they could soon apply for a regular licence (GMPCS licence) to offer satellite-based communication services in India,” DoT officials said, adding, “Currently, they are focusing on developing their team in India.”
A GMPCS licence will help the companies to offer voice and data services through satellite. The licence is issued for a period of 20 years and this allows companies to offer satellite communication services in licensed service areas.
At present, the government has issued letter of intent to Bharti Group-backed OneWeb and Jio Satellite Communications, a unit of Reliance Jio, to offer satellite-based internet services. “Jio Satellite will now sign the licence agreement within a week,” the official said.
Satellite-based communications is extremely useful for providing broadband services in remote, hilly, and inaccessible regions. It is also the only medium through which communication can be established in disaster zones when normal communication gets affected. In satellite communications, services are provided through Leo satellites, through which a box is suspended in remote and hilly regions creating Wi-Fi spots for broadband services.
Companies such as OneWeb are currently waiting for clarity from the government for allocation of satellite spectrum in 27.5-28.5 MHz band. “We are waiting for Trai to send their recommendations on the satellite spectrum band, ie whether it is to be put on auction or given administratively,” telecom secretary K Rajaraman had said recently. “We expect the process to complete in about 9-10 months,” he had said.Telecom operators are divided on the method of allocation of satellite spectrum. While Bharti Airtel favours administrative allocation, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio have argued that it be given via auctions.
A recent study by EY and Indian Space Association projects space economy to be a $13 billion industry by 2025 and of that satellite services and applications will constitute the largest 36% share.
The satellite broadband companies are also awaiting the launch of the space policy, which will provide them more clarity and lay down certain norms for the sector.
According to people aware of the matter, the draft of the space policy is ready and the department of space is likely to announce it shortly.