The government has put no bar on satellite phone services segment and any entity can start operations in the country, according to Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha. “There is no ban for anyone. It is open for all. If anyone is interested they can come,” Sinha told PTI. However, the service provider will require to set-up satellite phone gateway in India so that security agencies can lawfully intercept calls on its network whenever required. State-run telecom firm BSNL has started providing satellite phone service in India to meet requirement of security forces, disaster management team and some other government departments on case to case basis. The Department of Telecom has provision for satellite phone service under Unified Licence called ‘Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite (GMPCS) Service’.
The permit for GMPCS is given to firms after security clearance of the proposal by an inter-ministerial committee. After the issuance of guidelines for satellite phone services licence in the year 2001, the DoT received a number of proposals from various satellite operators, namely, INMARSAT, Iridium, Thuraya, Globalstar, etc for grant of GMPCS license. However, none of the operator has established the phone gateway, so far, in the country. Till date, no private satellite phone service provider has applied for the permit because of regulatory requirement and absence of subscriber base for the service. There are only around 4,000 active satellite phone connection in the country. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in a recommendation earlier had identified high call rate, around USD 1 per minute, as one of the barriers in satellite phone services in the country.
The government has asked BSNL to provide satellite phone service on request of the defence ministry as it can work across any nook and corner of the country. BSNL has set-up gateway for satellite phone service in partnership with INMARSAT at a cost of around Rs 83 crore.
BSNL satellite phone calls charges start in the range of Rs 40-45 for a minute. Bulk of the call revenue will be transferred to its satellite service partner INMARSAT. The state-run firms have plans to open satellite phone service for all consumers by 2019, which it feels will lower the cost of service with more number of users coming on the network. “We have applied for International Maritime Organisation approval. Once it is done, we will open it for public,” BSNL Chairman and Managing Director Anupam Shrivastava said. A satellite phone handset for INMARSAT services costs around Rs 40,000-Rs 70,000 a unit.